First, consider that 25% of young adults have seriously considered suicide in June of this year.
This virus is certainly not something to be taken lightly, but there is something to be said for the idea that our collective reaction to the virus may be more deadly than the virus itself.
A new report just published by the CDC, titled: “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020”, clearly demonstrates a radical shift in the mental health of U.S. citizens since the COVID-19 pandemic.
From 5,470 participants in the analysis which took place in June of this year, the following troubling conclusions were made:
* 41% of people were assessed to have at least one adverse mental disorder.
* 31% had symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder.
* 26% of people were diagnosed with a Trauma and Stressor Related Disorder (TSRD) arising from the pandemic.
* 13% had increased or started substance use to deal with the stress of COVID.
* 25% of adults aged 18-24 had seriously considered committing suicide in the previous 30 days leading up to the study. This represents a doubling of this statistic from the same period in 2018.
I think this report confirms what we all already knew in our gut: the stress of COVID-19 is precipitating a major mental health crisis in the U.S., and this mental health crisis is increasing suicides, depression, and substance abuse.
News flash: Increased mental health disorders lead to increased deaths, both in the short term (suicides and overdoses), and in the long term (suicides, overdoses, and increased risk of dying from every disease under the sun, including cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, etc).
This report does not attempt to unravel or make a distinction between the mental health effects attributed to policy-related responses to the virus (lockdowns, loss of employment, social distancing, etc), versus effects attributed to non-policy related issues (such as the presence of the virus itself); however, logic and reason would argue that most of the issues concerning mental health deterioration are related to the socioeconomic response to the virus, not the presence of the virus.
This report begs the question: is our response to the virus ultimately doing more damage to society and to people’s lives than the virus itself? Is the “real” death toll when considering future generations 10, 100, or 1000 times greater due to our overreaction? What will be the “actual” death toll arising from all of the direct and indirect effects that accumulate over the decades to come? Similarly, what will be the cumulative health impact, loss of quality of life, and the secondary and tertiary impacts that accumulate from the economic toll?
Are policy makers taking this into account when they prolong or reinstate lockdown orders and other social and economic measures that affect the mental health and economic well-being of people? What are the short- and long-term ramifications for our young people and young adults, and their children and grandchildren, especially when considering that trauma-related epigenetic programming has been shown to be transmissible to future generations? What are the ripple effects that amplify throughout time, and how do we ultimately “flatten that curve”? Is that curve even being contemplated?
Ultimately, every policy maker should consider these questions, as they will be ultimately responsible for the long-term ramifications of their decisions. This is not something that should be glossed over, ignored, or taken lightly.
Just because there isn’t a rapid diagnostic PCR test to provide policy makers with a daily update of mental health, this doesn’t alleviate their responsibility to consider the long-range repercussions and aftermath that everyone will have to live with long after this virus has passed.
Viruses wreak havoc by spreading through a population over a finite window of time; mental health disorders wreak havoc by spreading throughout generations for decades to come.
There is a short game, and there is a long game. I’m afraid that many policy makers have committed a fatal error by choosing to concentrate on the short game at the expense of the long game. And quite honestly, I don’t think the short game is effective either. It’s understandable that we didn’t know what we were dealing with when this first reared it’s ugly head, so a level of being overly cautious was necessary and smart; however, as data started to come out about the high percentage of asymptomatic cases, the low death rates, the low threshold needed to reach herd immunity, viral attenuation, and our already-existing T-Cell immunity programmed from other coronaviruses, policy makers should have eased restrictions and restored a sense of normalcy in society as quickly as possible to minimize the long-term psychological, physical, and economic damage caused directly and indirectly by the shutdown.
I hope that the mistakes made during this experience will be a lesson that we can collectively learn from so that these errors are not continued or repeated in the future when the next pathogen comes along. We may survive the first over-reaction to a novel pathogen, but we may not survive the second. There’s no doubt that society is going to suffer a great deal of harm for decades to come due to policy makers listening to politics over the data, and this long term damage will eclipse any harm that the virus may have caused over the short term.
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Czeisler, Mark É. “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic—United States, June 24–30, 2020.” MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 69 (2020).