Many areas around the U.S. and the world are seeing a decrease in the growth rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
However, the economic impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can still be felt just about everywhere.
It was reported Friday that the U.S. unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7% in April from 4.4% in March -- an estimated 20 million jobs lost due to the pandemic.
AP reports that the unemployment rate may actually be much higher due to government errors and the U.S. Labor Department’s process for calculating the percentage. Some calculations estimate the nation’s unemployment rate to be 23.6% -- closing in on the Great Depression’s peak unemployment rate of 25% in the 1930s.
As Americans face unprecedented unemployment due to business closures and social distancing measures, health professionals and researchers believe that more people are at risk for “deaths of despair” -- or deaths related to drug or alcohol abuse or suicide.
In a study published on Friday by the Well Being Trust and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, it is predicted that around 68,000 American lives may be lost to deaths of despair due to the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the negative financial impact of high unemployment rates, the study identifies two other major components that may lead to an increase in these deaths: social isolation and uncertainty.
As individuals are required to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, people are experiencing unprecedented social isolation. Researchers say that taking advantage of virtual communities amid the pandemic “may not be enough to hold off the impact of isolation and loneliness.”
The study also highlights the “inherent” uncertainty in the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, “incomplete science, emerging political ramifications, and no set timeline for stabilization” may leave Americans feeling scared and helpless.
The report says based on data collected from smaller groups of people, these factors can have significant effects on individuals’ mental health and well-being.
With these factors in mind, researchers established a process for predicting the number of additional deaths of despair directly connected to the pandemic. The study uses the number of 2018 deaths of despair in the U.S. (1881,686) as a baseline, and combines it with projected levels of unemployment for 2020-2029 and three different estimated rates of economic recovery following the pandemic.
The following table reveals possible numbers of additional deaths of despair for the next decade across nine different scenarios:
The research identifies a potential range of 27,644 to 154,037 additional deaths of despair in the country related to the COVID-19 pandemic through 2029. The lowest projected number reflects quick economic recovery, while the highest number reflects a slower economic recovery following the pandemic.
The data was broken down by states using unemployment data from 2008-2018 to project the number of additional deaths of despair in each individual state for 2020-2029.
The projected deaths broken down by states use the middle scenario from the first table: a 1.3% increase in unemployment with a medium economic recovery rate resulting in 65,598 total additional deaths of despair. The study predicts the largest increase in additional deaths of despair in the western half of the country and some states on the east coast and in the midwest.
Researchers note that the information published in the study is not meant to encourage reopening states and their economies prematurely amid the pandemic. To help prevent the projected increase in additional deaths of despair, the report calls for officials to integrate mental health into the COVID-19 response, fund initiatives to help people connect amid isolation, and provide accurate facts, care to those in need and meaningful work to those unemployed.
“A range of efforts at containing the COVID-19 pandemic must be rigorously applied to minimize deaths from infection,” the report says. “Policies that maintain infection control while addressing the mental health and addiction needs of the people will balance the impact of COVID-19 across all sectors.”
Read the entire study here: Projected Deaths of Despair During COVID-19.
Help is available if you’re struggling amid the pandemic:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800-273-8255
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
- National Hopeline Network: Call 800-784-2433