(This Op-Ed appears this date in the Florida Today newspaper.
When researching sources for an article about the impact of coronavirus on mental health problems in America, I didn’t realize the enormity of this issue.
Naturally, concerns would affect millions of Americans, but the stark figures about the suicide problem, via addiction, poverty, joblessness and depression, are far more serious than anticipated. A 650-word essay can barely touch on a subject which is socially, medically and governmentally immense.
Here are a few aspects about the pandemic’s impact and how it affects our nation’s state of mental health, derived from a Washington Post article on May 4th.
- According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of Americans claim the current crisis is injurious to their mental health.
- A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered more than a one-thousand percent increase in April of this year, compared to 2019.
- On-line therapy company, Talkspace, reports a 65 percent jump in clients since February.
- Of the trillions of dollars congress has allocated to fight COVID-19, only a pittance has been directed toward mental health.
What else could we expect? Mental illness is difficult to measure, though we may be surrounded by sufferers without realizing the scope until a tragedy occurs. Then it’s too late. Mental illness, which often leads to suicide, cannot be touched, seen, felt or tallied.
There are few gauges to provide measurements in the psychologic forum. In the prison system, mental health facilities and dysfunctional families are awash with unbalanced men and women of all ages, races and education, who are dangerous to themselves and others. Jails and prisons are ill-equipped to tackle the problem. That’s often where mental problems worsen while America looks the other way.
What we do know is that 124,000 Americans have died in just the last three months from coronavirus and 2.4 million have been infected by the disease. In April of this year, the New York Times reports the jobless rate exploding to over 20 million in four weeks. While the powers within leadership handle matters with science and government resources, and trillions of dollars, there’s little that can be done for the millions of grief-stricken and/or destitute people other than require masks and distancing rules, while we all become prisoners of our own abode. For some, that’s a recipe for stark depression.
The government has handed out relief funds, but jobless victims and their families continue to deal with poverty, grief from loss, homelessness, joblessness, and self-pity, where the sick get sicker and nowhere to turn. This doesn’t even address the millions of those addicted to drugs and alcohol, living virtually on the edge.
It is reasonable to expect soaring numbers of suicide victims when the stats finally come in. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Americans killed themselves over 48,000 times in 2018, or one victim every 11 minutes. That’s likely to double. At present, statistics for 2020 are not available, though trends tell us a huge spike in self-killing can be expected. Early data from the Disaster Distress Helpline reports a 338% increase in call volume in March 2020, when government mandates went into effect, compared to February .
Having investigated my share of suicides in Miami over thirty years, (hundreds) I learned that the majority are brought about by enormous despair whether from medical illness, addiction or emotional distress. Losing jobs, self-support, loved ones, personal freedom and basics like food and shelter with no relief in sight, are certain triggers. When the numbers are counted, I’m sure we will see a sharp spike in self-killings in 2020 – the ultimate escape.
When we, friends and families, witness such despair, we must try to do something to impede the suicide course. Impart love, care and support. Let disputes become bygones, because life is too precious to discard. Those who choose to end their lives will leave a trail of sorrow that never ends.
The national Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
Marshall Frank is a retired police captain from Miami-Dade County, author and frequent contributor. Visit www.marshallfrank.com