Study Predicts COVID-19 Shutdown Will Cause 75,000 'Deaths of Despair' From Suicide, Drugs, Alcohol

Brittany M. Hughes | May 8, 2020
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As the government and the media continue to tout the rising COVID-19 death count, a new study predicts there could be as many as 75,000 deaths during the pandemic – but not from the virus.

The study, conducted by the Well Being Trust, calls them “deaths of despair," fatalities attributed to suicide, drug and alcohol abuse stemming from isolation, the loss of income and the destruction of their livelihood.

"Deaths of despair are tied to multiple factors, like unemployment, fear and dread, and isolation,” said study co-author Benjamin Miller. “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.”

Loneliness, limited access to affordable health care, trauma and financial concerns, housing and food insecurity all contribute to the death count, the Well Being Trust said. Endless social isolation and a near-constant fear of infection will also negatively affect mental health. And while those who already suffer from anxiety, depression and mental health issues are even more vulnerable, Americans who didn't have addiction problems before the pandemic could easily develop them by picking up bad habits like binge drinking, or drinking in greater quantities beginning earlier in the day. In early April, just a few weeks into the shutdown, liquor sales had already jumped 243 percent.

The only real solution, Miller said, is to get back to normal.

"People have to be working and we have to get people connected to other people," Miller said.

While tens of thousands die each year from these kinds of factors – nearly 182,000 in 2018, by the study’s estimation – the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive shutdown it triggered will add thousands more to this year’s total.

In a best-case scenario, researchers found only 28,000 additional people will die from despair-related factors if the pandemic ends soon and the economy recovers quickly. But if the shutdown continues, the economy continues to nosedive and the public stays stuck beneath a cloud of fear, the study estimates as many as 150,000 more people will die from these non-COVID factors.

Realistically, an average of about 75,000 deaths should be expected, the authors said.