While we plan the next chapter in the fight to protect ourselves against COVID-19, we must recognize the psychological effects of being on lockdown. Can you identify which of the following statements about the human toll of the shutdown is false?
A. Suicides and calls to mental health hotlines have increased since the pandemic broke out.
B. Joblessness and poverty, which have skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic, are associated with shorter life spans.
C. Child abuse rates have decreased since the pandemic began.
A. True. A report from the Journal of the American Medical Association states, “Remarkable social distancing interventions have been implemented to fundamentally reduce human contact. While these steps are expected to reduce the rate of new infections, the potential for adverse outcomes on suicide risk is high.” The National Suicide Prevention Hotline reports numerous calls related to pandemic-induced distress. The Disaster Distress Hotline, a subsidiary of the Suicide Prevention Hotline, reported a 338 percent increase in calls for help during March over the previous month. Many callers say they are anxious because they are isolated or because of financial worries brought on by the pandemic. In fact, one new study projects an additional 27,644 to 154,037 deaths of despair due to COVID-19 and our response to it.
B. True. With U.S. job losses climbing to more than 30 million, this is a crucial concern. Many studies have documented the effects of joblessness and poverty on life expectancy. In a study commissioned by the European Union, a Yale University researcher documented that “high unemployment rates increase mortality and low unemployment decreases mortality and increases the sense of wellbeing in a community.” “Economic growth is the single most important factor relating to length of life,” the principal investigator on the Yale study found. An Associated Press study in 2018 found that a 10 percentage points fall in the employment rate for a neighborhood means about a year and a half reduction in life expectancy.
C. False. Reports of child abuse may be down because schools and pediatrician’s offices aren’t able to catch as many cases as they normally do. But abuse is actually up. A hospital in Fort Worth, Texas reported six cases of child abuse, one of them resulting in a child’s death, over the course of a week. The average for that hospital is around 8 child abuse cases a month. CBS News reported that welfare workers are worried about a spike in child abuse because, since they don’t have ordinary access to children, only the most severe cases of abuse are coming to light. Calls to the hotline of the nonprofit Parents Anonymous, Inc., saw a 30 percent spike in one week in calls to its National Parent Helpline, which helps families in turmoil.
Sadly, there’s every indication that suicide, despair, unemployment, and abuse are increasing as a result of the shuttering of most social and economic activity. Of course, we want to guard against the public health risk of the virus, but we must acknowledge that there are other risks to our health and wellbeing, too.