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Overdose and suicide rates up in St. Joseph County during pandemic

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 11:10 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The pandemic is taking a toll on peoples' mental health.

Coroner Mike McGann said there has been an increase in overdose and suicide deaths in St. Joseph County.

He said overdose deaths in the county dropped to 62 in 2018 and then dropped again in 2019.

Now, the numbers are quickly rising. Through August of this year, McGann said the county already had 47 overdose deaths. From August to now, the number is even higher.

“A large portion of the overdose deaths are perhaps people who have undiagnosed mental illnesses or substance use disorder...We know that significant life stressors can trigger the onset of mental health issues," said Addictions Therapist at Oaklawn and Bashor Children’s Home Dr. John Gallagher.

Gallagher is offering tele-counseling for patients to try to minimize the overdose death rate, but he is noticing some challenges.

“I have seen more turnover or patients discontinuing attendance and treatment," Gallagher said.

McGann said the increase in suicide rates is even more concerning. So far this week, he has responded to three suicide cases.

“We knew that the aftermath of the pandemic was going to be devastating for our community,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher said social isolation is a significant predictor for drug use and suicide.

“Making a statewide stay-at-home order from a mental health standpoint, an addiction recovery standpoint, for men and women who have histories of trauma can be re-traumatizing...The traumatized brain cannot distinguish between irrational and rational directions," Gallagher said.

Gallagher said if you need help, Oaklawn is now offering face-to-face and virtual options for treatment.

Here is a link to the website with services and a phone number.

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