We’re all a bit discombobulated these days. Even for those who are still working (I am), things feel fragmented because we really can’t count on much of anything.
Which is sort of silly when you think about it – life is never certain, and I laugh every time I hear anyone in a Covid-19 briefing say “we can’t guarantee that it will be safe to…until…” or “We won’t open up again until we can guarantee the safety of….”
Seriously? Can you EVER guarantee safety? Of course not.
But…I’m tired of the fear-mongering and the blaming that is going on. Yes, Covid-19 can be very serious. It is a strange thing, as many who get it show no symptoms, or have nothing worse than a bad cold or bronchitis. Others get it, and it’s pure torture or even deadly. I’m not downplaying the severity of this virus, and with all of the talk and numbers flying around, I’m looking at some perspective.
The models that experts and leaders point to in decision making have been notoriously wrong. We’re told that’s because we’ve been “flattening the curve.” I don’t know if that’s really the reason, because I don’t have all the data. None of us do.
I’m worried, though, about the toll this is taking in mental health, and there is very little talk about it. Why should I be surprised? Mental health comes into play when there is a celebrity suicide or a mass shooting, and then it goes lurking back into the shadows again. This is something that has concerned me for years; I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, no matter when/where/how/if I am practicing currently, I keep my license and continuing education active.
As of April 20, the CDC reports 746,625 cases of Covid 19 in the United States, with 39,083 deaths attributed to the virus. These numbers include “probable” cases. This is since 1/22/20, when that tracking began. (Note that the deaths include people who had the virus, not necessarily who died OF the virus.)
Now, let’s look at the 2017 – 18 flu season. (Yes, I know it’s not the flu. Bear with me a minute, OK?) Here are the CDC’s estimated rates of influenza-associated disease outcomes for all ages in the US:
20,731,323 sought medical attention (that is, saw a doctor: Do I have the flu? Yep.)
But, as we are often reminded, Covid 19 is NOT the flu! We have a vaccine for the flu. (No, not really, but we have a sometimes-more-effective-than-others “shot” for the flu that is called a vaccine.) Wow, a good thing we have a flu shot, that keeps the numbers down to just…45 MILLION infections!!)
For more perspective, the National Safety Council notes that in 2018, 39,404 Americans died in automobile accidents.
For even more perspective, the CDC notes that every day, approximately 123 Americans die by suicide.
That’s nearly 45,000 Americans a year who choose to take their own lives.
SAVE.org (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) offers training to the public as well as to mental health and health professionals. They compile statistics from the CDC, NAMI and others, and those stats are even more grim than when I earned my MSW three decades ago.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages. (Where does Covid 19 fall? I’m just curious.) Depression affects 20 – 25% of American adults in any given year, and only half of Americans who have a major depression episode (which is VERY different from “the blues,” reactive sadness, grief, etc.) receive treatment.
So what does this have to do with Covid 19?
My personal opinion, based on professional experience (aided by logic and an understanding of human nature) is that the effects of prolonged isolation, job loss, and downright economic disaster is going to have repercussions that may be even greater than those of the virus.
A recent article in US News & World Report noted that suicides have gone up by 35% in the last two decades. Jonathan Singer, the president of the board of directors of the American Association of Suicidology, noted that many “deaths of despair” happen in rural areas where there are fewer economic opportunities.
“Poverty breeds hopelessness, loneliness and depression, all emotions that increase the risk for suicide.”
Right now, most of the country is shut down. Following a great period of job growth and record low unemployment, many Americans were feeling optimistic about opportunities, work, and a chance to get ahead.
But now we have an economy in freefall, with over 22 million filing for unemployment, millions of Americans scared to death over a virus that hasn’t been anything like what was forecast, and poverty is getting up close and personal with a LOT of people. The models used to “predict” what was to have happened with Covid 19 haven’t been right yet.
But we can’t end these shutdowns yet! The infection rate and the death rates will go up!
BUT…the whole idea behind “flattening the curve” was to avoid overwhelming the health care system. I think we can safely say that we’ve done that. There will be people who point to increased infection rates (when things are “open” again) and say “see? We moved too soon! Disaster is on the horizon! Shut it back down again!!
The longer things are shut down, the more likely people will be to swarm everywhere they can once things are “open.” And yes, we will no doubt see more infections and , sadly, deaths. (I am interested in following the clinical trials on hydroxychloroquine. LSU is to be doing one, and they’re not alone. Fortunately, we already have a track record on that drug; it will primarily be a question of investigating its efficacy with treating Covid 19).
A prolonged economic shutdown breeds poverty…hopelessness…and loneliness. Those prone to depression and anxiety are going to have a worse struggle, and even those who aren’t “prone” to such things are likely having a tough time. (Let’s not even think about those poor souls with OCD! Hand-washing on steroids!) If you’re worried about feeding and housing your family and you and your spouse are suddenly unemployed, you want to get back to work. For many small business owners, this economic slide means the end of their dreams.
But the danger…
Well, that’s why I included those flu numbers. We don’t freak out over the flu. We wash our hands, don’t go to work when sick, and do our best to stay healthy and not think about this deadly disease that kills tens of thousands each year. We could catch the flu, even if we had a flu shot. (It’s happened to me.)
We don’t freak out over the prospect of dying in a car accident. We put that out of our minds, buckle up, check the rearview mirror, and drive to work.
I can promise you that somewhere in this country, right this moment, there is someone (and no doubt more than a few someones) worried, fearful, and in despair over the economic downturn. They may never have had to apply for any assistance before, and are overwhelmed with the “system” and the amount of paperwork they suddenly have to deal with.
Some are lost in the black hole of depression and desolation – and decide that’s it, and become another suicide statistic.
Stop reading for a moment and say a prayer for those souls; may their hands be paused from taking further action and may they reach out to someone for help.
Remember, risk is something we must live with every day, in everything we do. No one can guarantee our safety or wellness, not even the most respected doctors. The best any of us can do is mitigate the risk the best we can and carry on with life, and lend a helping hand to those who need it.
But please, let’s carry on with life; for ourselves, and for each other.