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Study: Deaths from suicide, alcohol, drug abuse related to COVID-19 could approach 75K

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A new study puts a big number of deaths from suicide and drug and alcohol abuse resulting from the COVID-19 lockdowns.

As many as 75,000 people will die from suicide and drug and alcohol abuse and misuse from the lockdown fallout, according to new research released by Well Being Trust and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care.

“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, Well Being Trust.

A brief detailing the research notes that if the country fails to invest in solutions that can help heal the nation’s isolation, pain, and suffering, the collective impact of COVID-19 will be even more devastating.

Three factors, already at work, are exacerbating deaths of despair: unprecedented economic failure paired with massive unemployment, mandated social isolation for months and possible residual isolation for years, and uncertainty caused by the sudden emergence of a novel, previously unknown microbe.

The study combined information on deaths of despair from 2018 as a baseline, projected levels of unemployment from 2020 to 2029 and then estimated the additional annual number of deaths based on economic modeling.

Across nine different scenarios, the additional deaths of despair range from 27,644 (quick recovery, smallest impact of unemployment on deaths of despair) to 154,037 (slow recovery, greatest impact of unemployment on deaths of despair), with 75,000 being the most likely.

When considering the negative impact of isolation and uncertainty, a higher estimate may be more accurate, according to the study authors.

“If we work to put in place healthy community conditions, good healthcare coverage, and inclusive policies, we can improve mental health and well-being,” Miller said. “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.”

Suicide Prevention Hotline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255.