According to new research, COVID-19 may lead to an additional 75,000 deaths due to drug or alcohol misuse and suicide.
The new report from the Well-Being Trust and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care released earlier this month, found that if the U.S. fails to invest in solutions to help heal the psyche of U.S. resident suffering from isolation, pain, and suffering, the collective impact of COVID-19 will be even more devastating.
The combination of unprecedented economic failure and unemployment, mandated social isolation and uncertainty caused by the emergence of a previously unknown disease, are exacerbating deaths of despair – deaths due to alcohol or drug misuse or suicide, the report said.
“Undeniably policymakers must place a large focus on mitigating the effects of COVID. However, if the country continues to ignore the collateral damage—specifically our nation’s mental health—we will not come out of this stronger,” said Benjamin F. Miller, PsyD, chief strategy officer, WBT. “If we work to put in place healthy community conditions, good healthcare coverage, and inclusive policies, we can improve mental health and well-being. With all the other COVID-related investments, it’s time for the federal government to fully support a framework for excellence in mental health and well-being and invest in mental health now.”
The study looked at deaths of despair from 2018 as a baseline and then looked at projected levels of unemployment from 2020 to 2029. By estimating the additional annual number of deaths based on economic modeling, researchers were able to determine how many additional deaths of despair the country would see – ranging from 27,644 in the face of a quick recovery to 154,037 in the face of a slow recovery. The report said 75,000 additional deaths of despair was the most likely estimate.
“When considering the negative impact of isolation and uncertainty, a higher estimate may be more accurate,” the report cautioned.
The report recommended a three-prong approach to stemming those deaths – figuring out how to address the effects of unemployment, making access to care easier, and integrating care the best way possible.
“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, MD, MPH, director of the Robert Graham Center. “We try to provide as much certainty as possible to shed some light on our path. We must also make our relationships certain, regardless of the uncertain facts and figures of the day.”