The U.S. reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected Americans more than the virus itself. It’s been well-documented that large percentages of businesses will fail, including some even in the medical profession due to the decimation caused shutdowns and essential procedure orders — but three of the most overlooked negative impacts of the shutdowns have been mental health, drug abuse and domestic violence.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the time period of April-June, nearly 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health of substance abuse. In a study published by the CDC on Aug. 14 due to stay at home orders, 40.9% of adults reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, 30.9% reported either anxiety or depression and 26.3% reported having something called trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TDSR). And those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.

The same CDC study showed that 13% of people surveyed by the CDC during the same time said that they started or increased their substance use and 11% seriously considered suicide. The Washington, D.C.-based ODMAP (Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program) reported that drug overdoses during COVID rose 18%. And a study released by Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in June showed calls to suicide hotlines are up 47% nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic with some crisis lines experiencing a 300% increase. 

These statistics are horrifying — but it doesn’t end there.

Not far from these numbers of increased mental health issues and substance use during COVID-19 is what the New England Journal of Medicine has labeled “A Pandemic within a Pandemic,” the rise and lack of reporting of domestic violence. With schools closed and people furloughed from work, stress levels were all-time highs in the home — and with it came higher numbers of violence. Typically, one in four women and one in 10 men experience domestic violence, but because of lockdowns, there were far less options to get away for either to report the other safely to the police. Worse is for children, who with school closures, lost teachers, guidance counselors and administrators they would once have an opportunity to report abuse to.

And how have the federal and state governments reacted? Not well. Many states are still closed, exacerbating all the issues I’ve mentioned. And similar to restaurant and small-business closures, many Americans will never recover from the damage that has been caused.

More egregious than our government not reacting is our government doing something even worse — chipping away services that could help those who find themselves in a hopeless or dangerous place. One such service at risk is the toll-free number. When I first heard about the potential to end the concept of toll-free numbers, I honestly blew it off. I, like many people that I know in my bubble, have an unlimited cellphone plan — toll-free numbers don’t come in to play for someone like me. But there are many who this would adversely affect.

Right now, the Federal Communications Commission is considering a move to eliminate the toll-free number — the aspects of which could be devastating to many underprivileged Americans who struggle mentally with drug abuse or suffer with domestic violence.

In a 5-0 vote on Friday, the FCC moved a step closer to its ultimate plan which according to them is shifting, “all intercarrier compensation to bill-and-keep, an arrangement under which carriers are paid by their subscribers rather than by other carriers to cover the cost of their networks.” Which ultimately means that the bill will trickle down to the consumer. It’s crazy to think, but after a once-in-a-century or more pandemic with the terrible spiking statistics that I mentioned earlier, that this would even be on the table. Currently, 25 billion, with a b, minutes of toll-free calls are made every month— and they aren’t to order things from home shopping.

Many of the top 100 used include services that people need more than ever now: State unemployment agencies, poison control centers, veteran crisis hotlines, sexual assault hotlines, mental health hotlines, suicide hotlines — you get the point.

So what is our government thinking — or is not? Maybe somewhere in the middle of the pandemic, someone got a fancy free cellphone from a large telecom company, because I’m not sure how you could recognize even one of the statistics that I mentioned and consider taking away something so simple that could help so many.

In March, the first time that COVID-19 was peaking in America, President Trump in all caps tweeted, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF…” It’s one thing to stay locked down for weeks and months to flatten the curve. It’s another to stay locked down when we see the numbers of statistics of mental health, drug abuse and domestic abuse increase to new highs for Americans. However, it hits a new level of atrocious and ignorant when our government officials take away something so simple that they may take it for granted — something that provides a much-needed lifeline for thousands. 

• Tim Young is a political comedian and author of “I Hate Democrats/I Hate Republicans” (Post Hill Press).

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