Officials Warn ‘Deaths of Despair’ May Rise Amid Pandemic-Induced Isolation & Joblessness - Are You Concerned?
Are you worried about “deaths of despair” rising during the pandemic?
What’s the story?
- A recent study projects that 75,000 American lives may be claimed by another epidemic growing alongside the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic ― an epidemic of “deaths of despair” from drug or alcohol abuse and suicide brought on by the collective toll of social isolation, joblessness, and uncertainty about the future.
- The study was produced by the Well Being Trust, a national foundation with a focus on mental health, and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care. Its estimate of lives lost in “deaths of despair” ranged from 27,644 if the economy recovers quickly, to 154,037 if recovery is slow.
- Federal officials are increasingly concerned about the unintended consequences of the pandemic response. On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH & White House Coronavirus Task Force warned of "irreparable damage" from lockdowns that go on too long, while Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, the head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration at the Dept. of Health & Human Services, told USA Today:
“We see very troubling signs across the nation. There’s more substance abuse, more overdoses, more domestic violence and neglect and abuse of children.”
- A report from the San Francisco Bay Area on May 21, 2020, cited the experience of the trauma unit at the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, which has seen a sharp increase in the number of suicides. The head of the trauma department, Dr. Mike deBoisblanc told ABC7:
“I think, originally, this (shelter-in-place order) was put in place to flatten the curve and to make sure hospitals have the resources to take care of COVID patients. We have the current resources to do that and our other community health is suffering. We’ve never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time, I mean we’ve seen a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks.”
- Concerns about a spike in deaths of despair during the pandemic is particularly concerning because they were on an upward trend prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. As this chart from USAFacts shows, while suicides and deaths from alcohol abuse were steadily rising there was a sharp uptick in drug overdoses in the last five years:
- The below chart from USAFacts shows how causes of death, including deaths of despair, vary by age group. Accidental drug overdoses were the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 25 to 44, representing 26.1% of deaths for people aged 25-34 and 18.6% of deaths for people aged 35-44. Suicides were the second leading causes of death in those groups, accounting for 13.6% of deaths for people aged 25-34 and 9.4% deaths for people aged 35-44.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / xesai)
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