The Reckless Wait To Reopen Is Destroying The Nation’s Psyche

The Reckless Wait To Reopen Is Destroying The Nation’s Psyche

Governors and mayors shut down the country with little data but are waiting for absolute certainty to reopen, wreaking havoc on the nation's mental health.
Tristan Justice
By

A new study released earlier this month offers fresh evidence that some mental health professionals’ worst fears in the era of the coronavirus pandemic are coming true.

PsyDPrograms.org, a community of clinical psychologists who help students pursue advanced degrees in psychology, found positive screenings for severe anxiety skyrocket as the nation faces unprecedented job losses and acute uncertainty amid the shutdown draining hope from communities.

Analyzing 2020 data from Mental Health America, a non-profit that tracks mental health indicators using online surveys and screening tools, PsyDPrograms found rates of severe anxiety climbed 34 percent nationwide within the last three months, coinciding with a rise in Google searches for online therapy as social distancing measures keep patients from accessing face-to-face treatment.

While there’s no public data available to determine state-by-state suicides for the past two months of the pandemic, there’s good reason to believe deaths by suicide are on the rise. Crisis hotlines have been reporting record calls across the country. The Disaster Distress Helpline run by the federal government saw an 891 percent increase in calls for March compared to the same month last year.

Knox County, Tennessee saw more lives lost to suicide than from the virus itself as the pandemic started ramping up. Benton County in central Washington suffered eight suicides between March 12 and April 23. Montgomery County near Houston has seen at least 11 suicides since March 23. Two frontline medical workers in New York committed suicide just in the past week, raising further awareness that those in the arena against the virus are particularly prone to high stress. Sixteen people have killed themselves in Queens since March 15.

The suicide rate nationwide had already been rising at a startling pace even before the coronavirus pandemic, with a 35 percent increase from 1999 to 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2017, more than 47,000 people killed themselves, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

The national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255. More resources are here.

Meanwhile, substance abuse is on the rise as millions of Americans escape to their favorite vices to cope with the joblessness, extreme isolation, and constant doomsday predictions creating a new wave in mental health crises.

A vast majority of states, however, remain locked down as fears of virus spread are keeping most governors from taking targeted measures to reopen their economies that could protect those at risk while allowing states to move forward. For those struggling with addiction, the lockdown leading to the absence of in-person support groups have likely become especially damaging for recovery.

“There’s no telling what being locked in the house for six weeks has done to you,” East Tennessee therapist Allysen Efferson told The Federalist, adding that the sudden change in environment is a colossal obstacle for anyone with a mental illness, including addiction, to overcome.

There are online groups for substance abuse recovery. Find resources here, here and here.

Americans can’t handle this much longer. If the country hasn’t reached breaking point yet, it will be soon.

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released Friday shows the nation’s economy collapsing, and fast. The CBO estimated the economic self-destruction from the pandemic is poised to destroy 40 percent of the American economy pushing jobless claims to an even higher unprecedented rate. As of last week, more than 26 million people have filed for unemployment. Unemployment has been shown to drive up suicide.

Each one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, according to The New York Times, also correlates to a 3.5 percent increase in opioid addiction, a crisis that had faded into the background of our national dialogue but had never actually gone away.

Yet governors and mayors are promising lockdowns will last until either mass testing of some kind is made widely available or a vaccine is produced, both of which are likely years away.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she doesn’t think it’s safe for any state or city to reopen until adequate testing or a vaccine is developed. Savannah’s mayor called his governor’s decision to begin reopening last week “reckless, premature, and dangerous.” The Virginia state health commissioner said the first phase of reopening could last up to two years before walking back his comments over the weekend. These people are deeply unserious.

As the president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity Avik Roy points out in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, “To match the modestly high level of coronavirus testing for which South Korea has been praised, the U.S. would need to administer 7 million tests a week. We’ll be fortunate if we reach half that number by September.”

And a vaccine will likely take even more time that Americans don’t have.

Despite all this damage, state and local leaders are pledging to keep their communities closed, further devastating the nation, until absolute certainty that they may prevent a surge in new cases despite relying on so little data before shutting down.

Public health officials initially warned of an apocalyptic pandemic threatening to wipe out millions of Americans as hospitals nationwide became overrun with virus-stricken patients. Their projections, however, were based on few models that have proven to be wrong, and none of what we were told would happen even came close to becoming reality anywhere in the country except for in a few densely populated urban areas which still didn’t exceed hospital capacity. New York, which has seen the worst outbreak, didn’t even need the 30,000 ventilators Gov. Andrew Cuomo complained about not getting from the federal government.

Instead of the virus overwhelming the health-care system, pandemic panic flattened it when governors ordered a stop to elective surgeries, drying hospital revenue and forcing mass layoffs.

Efferson warned that Americans need to be prepared for life to be different even after states begin to reopen.

“There is a whole new level of reality out there that’s about to hit people,” Efferson told The Federalist, pointing out that since we’ve been sheltered in our homes, most people haven’t seen the outside damage that has been done and things still won’t return to normal even once stay-home orders are lifted. Their favorite restaurants might be closed for good. Big events such as concerts and sports won’t come back for quite some time, and people’s behavior might remain distant.

“We don’t know what we’re going to see.”

The longer states wait to reopen, the heavier the emotional toll will likely be for a struggling nation.

Tristan Justice is a staff writer at The Federalist focusing on the 2020 presidential campaigns. Follow him on Twitter at @JusticeTristan or contact him at [email protected]

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