Houston Methodist Hospital’s psychiatric services are seeing a surge of patients since the beginning of the pandemic, with most of the recent mental health patients being minorities in their 20s or elderly patients in their 70s and 80s.


The surge coincides with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that found more than 40 percent of approximately 5,500 U.S. respondents surveyed in June said they experienced at least one mental or behavioral health condition since the pandemic began, with symptoms that included anxiety or depressive disorders.


“The suicide attempts we are seeing are much more serious these days and involve more young people, especially Blacks and Hispanics in their 20s,” says Dr. Corinna Keenmon, medical director of psychiatry at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Many of these patients are vulnerable, already living on the edge, and the pandemic removed any routine from their lives.” Coronavirus-related job loss, financial strain and family conflicts seem to be common factors leading these young adults to attempt suicide.

Keenmon and her colleagues also are seeing an increase in mental illness in elderly people in their 70s and 80s – also a vulnerable population pushed to their limits by the coronavirus and the fear and uncertainty brought on by a global health crisis. “Being isolated from supportive friends and family, and fears of contracting and dying of COVID-19 are the main triggers of suicidal behaviors for these older adults,” she says.


There are steps people can take individually and as a community to help ease the growing mental health crisis, according to Keenmon and her colleagues.


  • Maintain a daily routine (Anchor your day with regular meals and predictability, like waking, eating, taking medications and going to bed at the same time each day.)
  • Control what you can (Recognize that none of us can predict or avoid the results of a pandemic, but we can do our part to keep it in check by controlling our own behavior through wearing our masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently.) 
  • Physical exercise (Take a 10-minute walk; stretch and do light exercises; any kind of movement to increase blood flow, activate your heart and work up a sweat.)
  • Practice deep relaxation (Download a mindfulness app like Headspace or Calm, take 10 deep breaths, or take an online yoga class.)

  • Connect virtually (Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation. Connect with friends or family members using the tools you have available. Set up a weekly family Zoom meeting, send a text or email or connect by phone.)

  • Look beyond yourself (Reach out to family, friends, neighbors or coworkers to gain mutual support. This is a great way to gain perspective and remind yourself that you are not alone.)

  • Seek help if you need it (If you are experiencing mental health concerns, contacting your primary care doctor, a counselor or psychiatrist for an assessment is a good place to start.)


If you are experiencing thoughts of death or dying, seeing or hearing things others do not, or having thoughts to harm yourself or someone else, seek immediate care by going to the nearest emergency room, calling 911, or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text “HELLO” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. 


If you are concerned a friend or loved one may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, #Bethe1to.com gives five steps that friends or family members can take to keep their loved ones safe.


To read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Aug. 14 report, click on the survey.


To speak with Dr. Corinna Keenmon, medical director of psychiatry at Houston Methodist Hospital, contact Patti Muck, public relations, at 713-851-4596 or pamuck@houstonmethodist.org