Health experts warn that as pandemic-driven hardship puts added strain on the mental health of Americans, tens of thousands of lives may be lost due to outbreak-fueled drug or alcohol abuse and suicide.
“Deaths of despair have been on the rise for the last decade, and in the context of COVID-19, deaths of despair should be seen as the epidemic within the pandemic,” the study’s executive summary said.
“Unemployment during the Great Recession (December 2007–June 2009) was associated with an increase in suicide deaths and drug overdose deaths,” according to the study, whose authors noted that their estimates of additional pandemic-related deaths were based on historical and scientific research.
“We can only estimate the impact of social isolation based on the impact of social isolation among smaller groups and individuals. The magnitude and scale of social isolation in COVID-19 is unprecedented, so the impact on mental health and illness is a prediction.”
“Unless we get comprehensive federal, state, and local resources behind improving access to high quality mental health treatments and community supports, I worry we’re likely to see things get far worse when it comes to substance misuse and suicide,” Miller said.
Miller emphasized that the data is just a projection, and that actions taken could change the number of deaths.
“We can change the numbers—the deaths have not happened yet.”
He said “healthy community conditions” are preconditions for improved mental health and well-being.
“These are uncertain times, unprecedented. Unfortunately, for too many, this uncertainty may lead to fear, and fear may give way to dread,” said Jack Westfall, director of the Robert Graham Center.
“We try to provide as much certainty as possible to shed some light on our path,” he said. “We must also make our relationships certain, regardless of the uncertain facts and figures of the day.”