Resource Center HopJax Blog
Suicide, Overdose Deaths: Coronavirus Will Have Indirect Fatalities
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — The direct impact of the coronavirus has been extensive, costing nearly 2,400 lives and impacting families across the country. Those are not the only fatalities.
Mental health experts have been warning about the increased risk of suicides as well as drug overdose deaths as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers warned that the social distancing measures that have been credited with reducing the spread of the virus were also fueling the factors that often drive people to suicide.
“Secondary consequences of social distancing may increase the risk of suicide,” the authors wrote. Those consequences include economic stressors including unemployment, social isolation, lack of community and religious support, anxiety related to extensive media coverage and an increase in firearm sales. Additionally, research has shown seasonal fluctuations with suicides tending to increase in the spring and summer.
Public health officials have been able to point to models that indicate tens of thousands and possibly over 1 million lives have been saved because people are enduring the hardship of staying at home. Quantifying the longterm effects on mental health and mortality as a result of the pandemic response tends to be less exact.
The cure for mitigating the spread of the virus has come at a staggering cost. Nine in ten Americans reported their lives have changed as a result of the pandemic. More than 16 million have applied for unemployment insurance in the past three weeks. Citing hardships, nearly one-third of Americans didn’t pay their rent in April.
“Unemployment will lead to increases in suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and food insecurity,” wrote Johns Hopkins University professors Stefanie DeLuca and James Coleman, explaining the costs of social distancing disproportionately impact the poorest and most socially vulnerable. “Thousands of people will die from these causes, and many more will be severely injured and traumatized for life.”
The situation has created a “grim tradeoff” between saving different lives, they wrote: “Saving the lives of those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 versus saving the lives of those who are most vulnerable to suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence.”
Discussions about the longterm effects of the coronavirus response on mental health and mortality have been controversial, given the immediate need to prevent virus deaths. It’s still unclear how deadly the virus will be. It’s unclear how long the economic downturn will last or how high unemployment will get, though the Federal Reserve has estimated it could reach 30%.
Dr. Harvey Brenner of Johns Hopkins University has spent decades researching the relationship between unemployment and mortality. In an oft-cited study from 1977, he suggested that for every 1% increase in national unemployment, the suicide rate would rise 4.1% and total mortality levels for the country would rise by 2%.
Those rates have undoubtedly changed over the years but Brenner’s research has consistently demonstrated a correlation between high unemployment rates and increased mortality, as well as the converse, that low unemployment corresponds to lower mortality.
Research into substance abuse has also strongly suggested a relationship between sudden increases in unemployment and a spike in overdose deaths.
In a 2017 study, a team of researchers found a connection between shocks to the local unemployment rate and an increase in opioid overdose deaths. The data suggested that every 1% increase in unemployment was associated with a 3.6% increase in opioid-related overdose deaths.