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Organization projects 'deaths of despair' to jump due to economic fallout, stress of COVID-19

Organization projects 'deaths of despair' to jump due to economic fallout, stress of COVID-19
Posted at 8:10 PM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-09 08:50:10-04

EDITORS’S NOTE: This story discusses suicide and addiction. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK(8255) connects the caller to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed. Those in need of mental health or substance abuse help can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Deaths related to suicide, drugs and alcohol are projected to increase in the coming years due in part to the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus, according to research from the Well Being Trust.

The research looks at the human toll that unemployment and joblessness has on Americans. The study concluded that a 1% increase in unemployment causes a 1.3% in the national suicide rate.

But the study’s authors cautioned that its projections are “multifaceted,” and can vary based on other measures, including isolation and loneliness; systemic issues such as a fractured health care system and lack of culturally and linguistically competent care; and finally community conditions such as systemic racism and structural inequalities in education, income, transportation and housing.

As part of the Well Being Trust’s research, the authors projected that the economic impact caused from the virus could last up to a decade. A slow economic recovery, one taking nearly a decade, could cause a range of 96,273 additional deaths of despair to as many as 154,037 additional deaths of despair.

A fast recovery, one that would take less than four years to overcome, would see an additional 27,644 to 44,230 deaths of despair. The group puts its median recovery projection at around 68,000 additional deaths.

While the study says getting people to work is important, it stresses it is not a call to reopen the economy quickly. The authors said that measures to protect workers and the public should be in place, and that policymakers should use the best science available in making decisions. The study added that deaths of despair has long been a problem in the US.

“Central to many of the problems in our communities will be the need to find employment,” the study says. “The literature is clear that unemployment is a risk factor for suicide and drug overdose as well as a decrease in overall health status. To this end, policy solutions must focus on providing meaningful work to those who are unemployed.

“Service can be a powerful antidote to isolation and despair, and COVID-19 offers new and unique opportunities to employ a new workforce – whether that be through contact tracing – helping local public health department track the virus – or through community health services where a new corps of community members are employed to provide help to those in the most need.”

The Well Being Trust says it is a national foundation dedicated to advancing the mental, social and spiritual health of the nation. To read the full study, and see a state-by-state projection, click here.

Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs or on Facebook