75,000 Americans at risk of dying from coronavirus-related overdoses or suicide, mental health group warns

Report warns thousands of lives will be lost amid pandemic's economic uncertainty if US 'continues to ignore the collateral damage' to nation's mental health

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 08 May 2020 19:05
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CNN anchor Chris Cuomo says coronavirus 'messes with your head', stressing mental health toll

The nation's death toll from coronavirus-related illness could more than double from "deaths of despair" — including drug or alcohol misuse and suicide — in the wake of the pandemic and economic fallout that could take years to repair.

Following the Covid-19-linked deaths of more than 75,000 Americans, as many as 75,000 others could die without significant federal investments to address the overwhelming "isolation, pain and suffering" among Americans following unprecedented unemployment rates, mandated social isolation and anxiety through the public health crisis, according to a report from mental health policy group Well Being Trust and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care.

Without that intervention, "the collective impact of Covid-19 will be even more devastating", the report says.

While mitigating the immediate effects of the virus, lawmakers must also work to support public health, inclusive healthcare policies, and a "framework for excellence in mental health and well-being" without delay, said Well Being Trust chief strategy office Benjamin F Miller.

"If the country continues to ignore the collateral damage — specifically our nation's mental health — we will not come out of this stronger," he said.

Several factors could contribute to deaths of despair, including loneliness and isolation, poor healthcare or lack of access to quality care, systemic racism, trauma, and financial and housing insecurity, all of which could surface during quarantines and a looming economic crisis.

The study combined information from the more than 181,686 deaths of despair from 2018, the last available year for such data, with projected unemployment over the next decade.

Across nine different scenarios in the report's modelling, the additional deaths of despair following the pandemic range from 27,644 — with a relatively fast rate of economic recovery — up to 154,037, with a slow rate recovery and the greatest impact of unemployment on deaths of despair.

Researchers determined that 75,000 deaths, under the nations's current framework for addressing mental health, is the most likely scenario; the report notes that "when considering the negative impact of isolation and uncertainty, a higher estimate may be more accurate."

Officials have debated the consequences of delaying "reopening" the US economy, highlighting both the socioeconomic and ideological divides among Americans — those who work from home with financial security and those who can't afford to — while liberals and progressives have urged for stronger social safety nets to prevent both personal and economic suffering.

Over the last several years, life expectancy in the US has dropped for the first time nearly a century, with increased rates of suicide, drug overdosed-related deaths and alcohol-related liver disease.

Another devastating jobs report on Friday highlights the pandemic's economic toll, with another 20 million jobs cut from the nation's payroll last month and surging the unemployment rate to 14.7 per cent, the worst since the Great Depression.

The nation's coronavirus-linked death toll could already be more than double the rate recorded by Johns Hopkins University, following delays in testing and reporting as well as the exclusion of deaths from heart failure, strokes or cancer among people who failed to get treatment, either because they were too scared to go to a hospital amid the pandemic or their procedures and appointments were cancelled, The Independent reports.

Last week, the University of Washington's model — which the White House has used for its projections — adjusted the projected US death toll to 134,000, more than double an estimate from the previous month, which topped at 72,000. At the far-end of its projection, the university's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that as many as 243,000 Americans could die.

Samaritans is available 24/7 every day of the year to listen and offers support to anyone who is struggling to cope. Contact Samaritans by phone, free of charge, on: 116123, or visit samaritans.org to find details of local branches.

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