154,037 deaths of despair could overshadow COVID-19 deaths, ReopenAmerica responds

154,037 deaths of despair could overshadow COVID-19 deaths, ReopenAmerica responds


Jonathan Lockwood


Deaths of despair projected to hit 154,037
Post-COVID-19 isolation, unemployment could overshadow deaths caused by COVID-19

PORTLAND, Ore.—”Deaths of despair” is a term used to describe deaths caused by suicide, drugs and alcohol. The effect of isolation and unemployment triggered by COVID-19, and the responses to it, is projected to result in more deaths than the virus itself.

A new report, “Projected Deaths of Despair from COVID-19,” produced by researchers with the Well Being Trust (WBT) and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care notes that if policymakers and executives fail to invest in solutions that can alleviate the nation’s isolation, pain and suffering that the collective impact of COVID-19 will be even more devastating than the virus itself.

The report explains that three factors are exacerbating deaths of despair. These factors include unprecedented economic failure, massive unemployment and forced isolation for months with no clear lifting of restrictive executive orders.

ReopenAmerica Project, a network of leaders pushing for “data-driven, balanced leadership to combat COVID-19 to save lives and livelihoods,” pointed to the report’s findings.

“We need lawmakers and governors across the states to pay attention and consider insights from data that challenges broadly accepted generalities,” said ReopenAmerica Project Founder Jonathan Lockwood. “Reopening America is critical to saving lives and livelihoods, and that more lives could be lost than saved by restrictive, politically-driven lockdowns.”

The deaths of despair study combined information on deaths of despair from 2018 as a baseline (n=181,686), 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 [which is higher than the current COVID-19 toll].  When considering the negative impact of isolation and uncertainty, a higher estimate may be more accurate.

“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.

“Deaths of despair are tied to multiple factors, like unemploymentfear and dread, and isolation. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were already an unprecedented number of deaths of despair. We wanted to estimate how this pandemic would change that number moving forward,” added Miller.

The map projected deaths of despair from 2020-2029 dramatically darker than the 2018 map.

“People should take a look at the data comparing pre-lockdown to post-lockdown and take a hard look particularly at the Western Pact states,” added Lockwood. “Western governors promised to look at data and science and put people’s lives ahead of politics. They can’t do that if they do not read this report.”

California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Nevada governors formed the Western States Pact and told the Associated Press they had a shared vision that put science ahead of politics. Nevada Democrat Gov. Steve Sisolak said that state leaders would exchange critical information about mitigating COVID-19 and reopening businesses “responsibly.” ReopenAmerica Project claims timelines need to be shortened.

“More Americans could lose their lives to deaths of despair, deaths due to drug, alcohol, and suicide, if we do not do something immediately,” the report said. “Deaths of despair have been on the rise for the last decade, and in the context of COVID-19, deaths of despair should be seen as the epidemic within the pandemic.”

The report also cited uncertainty as a trigger for an increased toll of deaths of despair as, “Uncertainty has a serious impact on the emergence and worsening of mental illness. These are unprecedented times, and uncertainty may lead to fear which may give way to dread.”

“Leadership is about management and management is about performance and outcomes. These projections based on research, data and science paint a clear picture that extreme measures have extreme consequences,” added Lockwood.

MarketWatch reported that 134,000 people in the U.S. could die from COVID-19, more than double an estimate five weeks ago of 72,000, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.


About ReopenAmerica Project

ReopenAmerica Project is a nonpartisan coalition of lawmakers, business leaders, health care workers, influencers and citizens who believe in a sound, data-driven and balanced approach to getting America back up and running.

Data is only as good as its inputs. In a crisis, leadership depends on quality data that informs solutions that weigh all of the costs and opportunities involved in taken actions. 

ReopenAmerica Project is a communications platform that shares commentary, data and news to forward an open conversation about public health and economic policies, rulemaking and executive decisions. 

ReopenAmerica Project has been mentioned in The New York Times, the UK Independent, Ore.-based Willamette Week, and more.

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