The Astonishing Psychological Cost of Lockdown
by Sandy Szwarc
Recently, a series of special health alerts and reports have come out warning of growing numbers of people and a country at the breaking point. Sadly, little of that information has reached the public.
American people are crying out for help and dying − not from a virus with an “infection fatality rate” of 0.15-0.2% across all age groups, and 0.03 to 0.04% in those under 70 years old. (This means, 99.96% of nearly everyone who gets the virus lives.) No, the desperation and distress are in response to the government’s unprecedented mandates and lockdowns.
Masking, isolation, business closures, shuttered churches, ended normal school classes, seniors confined secluded in nursing homes, people left to die alone in hospitals, sporting events ended, music silenced, jobs and livelihoods destroyed. American life has been cancelled – from Easter to Memorial Day, 4th of July to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now New Year’s..
Many people have lost everything and now face losing their country. The level of despair is palpable. Growing numbers have lost the ability to cope.
What would happen as a result of these unprecedented government mandates was well known. They cannot say they didn’t know or that it wasn’t anticipated.
Aftermath of Covid-19 “Pandemic” Declaration
Local and state governments acted in lockstep, issuing sweeping mandates in March with predicted devastating impacts on the economy. The 95 million Americans not in the labor force at the start of the year jumped by more than 10 million the first month after the emergency mandates. With the continued lockdowns and emergency orders, joblessness has accelerated, with the greatest impact on women and lower income workers. Over 40% are not expected to regain their jobs. This November, more than 100.6 million Americans were not working, 9.2 million more compared to this time last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Texas has had the second greatest number of business closures in the nation, after California, since March, according to the latest Yelp Local Economic Impact Report. More than 8,900 Texas businesses have closed permanently and another 5,300 are closed temporarily and barely hanging on. Even in Lubbock, for example, which had enjoyed stable low unemployment levels for years, unemployment rates shot up over 350% in April after Mayor Dan Pope’s emergency orders. Still today, the percentage of Lubbock residents without jobs is more than double what it had been the entire year before.
Every month of the economic shutdown has cost the U.S. economy $1.1 trillion, according to leading economists. Not only is this the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, according to Goldman Sachs, but high unemployment and job uncertainty, which peaked at 25% across the country, are expected to continue. Unemployment levels were predicted to persist at around 8% through 2021.
The public is finally coming to realize that even this forecast is optimistic − there is no end in sight in the government’s plans to never allow the country to return to normal. Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned it would last two years, some academics have advocated for mandates to continue years until the virus is completely eradicated, and World Economic Forum stakeholders are saying that normal life (without masking, social distancing and other restrictions) won’t be permitted until after 2022, even after lockdowns are lifted.
“A thriving economy, of the kind that we are now throwing away, is the source of our security and the foundation of our children’s future. We would do well not to sneer at it. Poverty kills too. And when it does not kill, it maims, mentally, physically and socially.” − Lord Sumption
Being without work and job insecurity have long been recognized as risk factors for depression, anxiety, suicide, substance abuse and premature death. Unemployment is associated with an average 60% increase in mortality. There’s also a large body of research showing isolation and loneliness lead to worsening mental and physical health and premature death. Isolation and loss of close social contact raises risks of heart attacks and strokes, and increases death from all causes by 50%. Social isolation itself is increasingly contributing to cruel growing deaths among locked down elderly, by an estimated 20%, who simply don’t want to go on and have lost the will to live. It’s a form of punishment for felons, after all.
As mental health experts wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association, government mandates have created the perfect storm for increased suicides: economic stress from loss of jobs, loss of savings from stock market declines, closed businesses and schools, social isolation and loneliness, loss of community and religious services and activities, unknowns with loss of control over political mandates, and health worries, including people unable to access medical care as mandates restricted care for non-Covid patients.
According to the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care with Well Being Trust, the collective impact of the government’s emergency mandates will be even more devastating. “Massive unemployment, mandated social isolation for months and possible residual isolation for years,” along with the uncertainty and fear being created about a virus, is exacerbating the deaths of despair. Looking at the projected levels of unemployment from 2020 to 2029, they estimated 27,644 additional suicides if the shutdowns ended right away, to 154,037 suicides if the economic recovery is slower.
Public Health Crisis – Suicides
In a study published in Lancet Psychiatry, University of Zurich psychiatrists examined more than a decade of data from 63 countries and found a 9-fold higher number of suicides associated with unemployment.
In August, Kaiser Family Foundation researchers reported stress symptoms had nearly doubled since March, including difficulty sleeping, eating disorders, increased drinking and substance abuse, and worsening of chronic health conditions. Also in August, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s MMWR reported that since the pandemic, representative surveys across the country revealed that over 30% of Americans admitted suffering from anxiety or depression, 13.3% had started or increased use of substances trying to cope with the stress; and more than one in ten had seriously considered suicide in the previous 30 days.
Suicides and drug overdoses have soared across the country. Even children have become collateral damage of the government mandates. Suicides and drug overdoses have far exceeded deaths from Covid-19 among young people, CDC Director Robert Redfield reported this summer.
Cook Children’s hospital in Fort Worth, for example, reported a disturbing spike in suicide attempts among children, with 29 patients in August alone – one child suicide patient a day, more than double typically. By October, 192 kids had been admitted for attempting suicide – this compares to 88 patients in 2015. As children struggle from the isolation, missed social connections and fears, “kids are getting to the point where they’re becoming more hopeless,” said Kia Carter, MD, the hospital’s medical director of psychiatry.
A study by specialists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston just published in the journal Pediatrics reported the results of more than 9,000 risk screenings done at their pediatric Emergency Department. They found significantly higher rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts during this pandemic among ages 11-21, as compared to the same period last year.
Significant increases were specifically seen during the months when Covid-related stress and community responses were heightened, they reported. Suicides had already grown to become the second leading cause of death among young people 10-17 years old, with ER visits for suicide attempts among children increasing 92% between 2007-2015.
New Mexico, as an example, has endured some of the most stringent and unrelenting lockdown measures in the country by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. It’s a state that can ill afford the crippling measures. It has long ranked at the bottom of nearly every index from economy, jobs, schools performance, and illicit drugs problems; and highest for crime (more than twice the national average) and violence. It has also long had the highest rates of suicide deaths in the country, twice the national average, according to CDC data.
Yet New Mexico officials have been pretty silent about the consequences of Grisham’s policies on rising drug overdoses and suicides, even among kids. One tragic story was recently leaked to the news of an eleven year old in Hobbs who took his life, leaving a journal describing how he was going mad from stay-at-home orders and wanted to be able to go to school and play with his friends.
Nor have the public schools been outspoken about what’s happening among students. At the October 8 Board of Directors meeting of New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority, Julie Garcia, with Poms & Associates, a risk prevention insurance company that’s had NMPSIA’s contract since 1986, said in her loss prevention update that there had been several suicides in the past several months concerning school children. She was asked specifically if anyone had reached out to the Farmington schools about the athlete suicides, lamely replying with an offer of two mental health first aid trainers.
But the growing suicides among New Mexico’s youth were exposed in a December 8, special suicide report from the state’s Legislative Finance Committee. It revealed that suicides are a larger cause of death among 15-24 year olds than any other age group in the state. Suicide rates among these young people more than doubled from 13/100,000 in 2014 to 29.5/100,000 in 2017.
The pandemic lockdowns have exacerbated suicide risks, the analysis said. Already this year, there have been seven suicides in children under 15 years old, compared to five in 2019, along with increased numbers among ages 15-24. The report disclosed that there had been seven suicides among New Mexico’s student athletes this year, as well as two youths from Hobbs and another two in San Miguel County. Worse, it reported that according to the Public Education Department’s budget reporting, the state’s public schools had been allotted an additional $12 million this school year for guidance counselors, counselors and psychologists – money that has been left unspent.
Public Health Alert – Overdoses
This past week, the CDC took the unusual action of issuing an emergency Health Alert Advisory. Its most recent data revealed 81,230 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. during the 12 months ending in May.
“This is the largest number of drug overdoses for a 12-month period ever recorded.”
Since emergency mandates were enacted in March, the CDC stated, drug overdoses have skyrocketed – the largest increase occurring from March to May, “coinciding with the implementation of widespread mitigation measures for the Covid-19 pandemic.” The drug overdose crisis is accelerating with the pandemic declarations, it said. This is after overdoses had declined 4.1% between 2017 and 2018.
The primary driver is synthetic opioids – illicit fentanyl – a deadly street drug. Western states have had large increases in availability of illicit fentanyl in the streets, and had the largest increases in overdose deaths, confirmed in clinical toxicology drug tests, the CDC stated. Ten Western states have had a 98% increase in illicit drug overdoses, but all 38 jurisdictions with data have recorded significant surges in deaths since the government Covid-19 pandemic mandates.
The Overdose Mapping and Application Program, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area initiative that collects data from ambulance teams, hospitals and law enforcement, sounded the alarm in May. It reported that overdoses had increased 20% between January and April compared to last year, with the greatest spike occurring in March.
The Washington Post reported that compared to last year, overdoses had jumped 18% in March and were continuing to increase: 29% in April and 42% in May. Calling it “Cries for Help,” they wrote that “as the pandemic has pushed massive doses of fear, uncertainty, anxiety and depression into people’s lives, it has cut off the human connections that help ease those burdens” of isolation, hopelessness, and distress.
A December 9 Issue Brief from the American Medical Association chronicled disturbing reports of drug overdoses across the country – with more than 40 states reporting increased drug deaths. By September, Cortland County in Texas, for example, had recorded a 200% increase in overdose deaths in less than two years. Drug trafficking gangs are increasing profit margins by cutting expensive heroin with cheaper synthetic substances like fentanyl or brorphine, said law enforcement officers, who are seeing growing evidence of illicit drugs.
Overdose deaths far exceed deaths to Covid-19 in cities across the country. A reported 173 deaths associated with Covid-19 have been reported in the San Francisco area this year. In contrast, a record 621 have died of drug overdoses, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. In November alone, 58 died in their streets, sidewalks, alleyways and parks – two a day. Officials at the city’s Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Project believe that these numbers are still a major undercount since they are self-reported.
In nearly every report of skyrocketing suicides and drug overdoses seen with the government’s pandemic measures, proposals by stakeholders call for more money and more mental health programs…while ignoring the most obvious root of the problem. If leaders really cared about people, the clearly rational and ethical thing to do would be to fully end the unsupportable government mandates. Continuing pandemic mandates is not just destroying people’s lives and livelihoods. It is killing people.
First published at AIER.org.
Sandy Szwarc, BSN, RN is a graduate of U.T. Austin and a researcher and writer on health and science issues for more than 30 years. Sandy is the food editor, writer and publisher of the blog “Junkfood Science”
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