Experts Warn of ‘Dramatic Increase’ in Suicides as Unemployment and Evictions Continue

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By Elle Meyers

August 13, 2020

And Republicans are still refusing to pass a bill to extend federal unemployment benefits and a federal moratorium on evictions.

Republicans could have even more reason to negotiate with Democrats on a coronavirus relief package, as nearly 1 million people filed unemployment claims last week and experts warn the United States could see an uptick in suicides. 

Concern over the mental health toll of the pandemic and the failure of Republicans to reach an agreement to renew the $600 per week federal unemployment benefit and an eviction moratorium comes on the heels of news that the United States saw the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in one day since May. On Wednesday, the nation reported a total of 1,500 deaths. 

Like nearly every other aspect of normal life, the usual ways to assess and treat mental health have been uprooted by the pandemic. Access to in-person treatment, therapy, family, and community support are all more difficult to get and can increase a person’s risk for exposure to COVID-19. 

“What the pandemic is doing is it is upending all the structures and supports that we have in place to handle emotional unrest in a small number of people. Now we have a whole lot of people that are experiencing increased anxiety and depression all at once,” said Jonathan Singer in an interview with Courier. Singer is president of the American Association of Suicidology and associate professor of social work at Loyola University in Chicago

Unlike other countries that have significantly reduced their number of cases, the United States is still facing a long fall with coronavirus outbreaksand experts worry that as eviction moratoriums run out and people are left without the enhanced unemployment benefits, residents will begin to despair. And there is data to back this up. The CDC reports that one in four young adults, ages 18 to 24, say they have considered suicide in the past month because of the pandemic.

Singer explained that the pandemic has brought on several different factors that contribute to the national suicide rate.

“If we are if we were to look at past, if we look at the history, we would say these are things that have been known to contribute to increase in suicide risk,” Singer said. “And all of these things are happening now, which would increase suicide risk.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Singer also said the there could be a “dramatice increase in suicide deaths, or at least despair.”

Things like isolation and unemployment have shown to be major factors in the suicide rate. 

Scientists have seen this trend before. After the Great Recession in 2008, about 10,000 more people died by suicide than expected in the United States and Europe, according to a report in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Of that group, middle-aged and older men were more likely to kill themselves. 

Singer explained that scientists have traced the trend as far back as the Great Depression and saw an increase in the suicide rate during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1912. 

The United States is also unique because of its lack of a social safety net, Singer noted. In other countries, citizens have access to more affordable and even free health care, and homelessness is a much lower risk. But if an American faces sudden unemployment, they also face a lack of health care, high housing costs, and very little to fall back on.

And housing can also play a part in suicide. According to the National Health Care For The Homeless Council a 2012 study found that suicide rates were 10 times higher for people experiencing homelessness than the general population. 

The United States was already struggling with an affordable housing crisis before the pandemic hit. According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, in 2016 there were well over 2 million eviction filings in the United States. Today, as millions of people are out of work and have no reliable source of income, rent is often taking a backseat to necessities like groceries and medicine. Without moratoriums on evictions, hundreds of thousands of families are in a precarious situation. 

“Losing your home takes away an important protective factor and may lead to family splits. It increases suicide risk, no question about it,” said Steve Moore in an interview with The Guardian. Moore serves as the co-chair of the Illinois chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Of the many side effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s insufficient safety net and mental health services have become glaringly apparent. In its wake, the pandemic has brought up issues of racial inequity, homelessness, and a clear lack of sufficient medical care. But Singer notes a silver lining in bringing these issues to the surface. 

“The lack of resources and the underfunding of services and the sort of physical health risks that the Black and brown Americans experience have been highlighted by the pandemic,” he said. “And I also think there’s a sense that we’re all in this together. We might be in different boats, but we’re weathering the same storm.”

If you are feeling hopeless and need help reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or visit their website here


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