According to the CDC, over 147,000 people have died from COVID-19 or COVID-related causes in the United States. The number is slowly climbing, and perhaps the worst of this pandemic is yet to come. But another death toll — equally alarming, a tally with no end in sight — continues to rise as well.
CDC director Robert Redfield participated in a Buck Institute webinar on July 14. While discussing the possibility of schools reopening this fall, he also argued that young people’s mental health has been disproportionately affected by strict lockdowns.
“There has been another cost that we’ve seen, particularly in high schools.We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID,” Redfield said.
Redfield does not cite any recent data from the CDC. The latest are from 2018, when 48,290 Americans took their own lives. However, state reports — as compiled by the American Medical Association — lend credibility to his argument. In addition to the lockdowns, opioid abuse and underlying mental-health problems such as anxiety that existed long before COVID-19 play a huge role in locally reported suicides.
According to the American Medical Association, “More than 35 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder in counties and other areas within the state.”
“The AMA is greatly concerned by an increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid-related mortality — particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs,” the report stated.
In Albany, Ga., Doughtery County coroner Michael Fowler claimed that suicides have increased during the pandemic. With 11 or 12 suicides in 2020 so far — the county’s typical average for an entire year — the number is likely to increase between now and January. Other coroners around Georgia haven’t yet seen a spike in their respective counties.
Georgia social worker Diana Glass, however, has witnessed more individuals behaving desperately due to unemployment and socially isolating lockdowns. “We have a behavioral-health crisis center and we have certainly seen an increase in the number of individuals that are in a crisis situation,” Glass said.
She continued, “Unemployment, if you look at it throughout history, is associated with an increase in suicide deaths and substance abuse, overdose-type deaths.”
The pandemic will surely pass at some point — when, though, is anyone’s guess. But in the wake of lockdowns and economic disaster, and with the possibility of a second wave in the fall, the mental-health crisis seems primed to intensify, with far-reaching consequences.