Robin Smith / April 27, 2020

Isolation Is Also Deadly

Suicide has already increased significantly during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Isolation is the key to social or physical distancing aimed at curbing the transmission of COVID-19. But isolation of both the ill and symptomatic along with the well also intensifies problems with mental health, like depression. It’s impacting one key aspect of those in recovery from addictions, not to mention the deaths and diseases of despair.

Healthy social interactions range from the mundane of encountering smiling faces in our daily comings and goings to individuals who partner with a group or a counselor to overcome addictions through accountabilities. These human touches and encounters are needed in our lives for our own purpose, self-worth, camaraderie, and identity.

With the prolonged isolation of both sick and well, positive COVID cases with hospitalizations are not the only numbers that have to be considered. Deaths of despair will soon be part of the death count, though there won’t be extra COVID funding coming for those lives.

Forced unemployment in double digits has placed Americans who would never in their lives expect to receive a government unemployment check out of work. Wait, they’re told, on the population centers to stabilize their case counts and hospitalization rates. Wait on some authority to allow “nonessential businesses” — the estimated 30.2 million sole proprietors or authentic small businesses that make up more than 98% of all businesses in the U.S. — to resume operations.

Remember the opioid epidemic? Deaths of despair were characteristic of the opioid crisis, because there is a a correlation between economic instability or collapse and the increase in illicit drug use and addiction. Hence, the opioid epidemic had part of its roots in economic distress. According to the National Institutes of Health, in 2017, there were 70,000 deaths due to opioid overdoses. America didn’t close its economy but there was a mounted response to intervene and reverse course, which happened to include improved economic opportunities for millions.

Yet today, some push a straw argument in efforts to marginalize the opposition in order to keep everything locked down. It goes like this: If you want to reopen the economy, you’re greedy and want people to die. Rhetorically, the question is posed, “How many deaths are too many before it’s time to close businesses again?”

It’s not just the out-of-work adults facing despair. The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman records several reports of increased volume at the teen suicide hotline as a result of social and physical isolation combined with family pressures within the home.

Social determinants and adverse childhood events are buzzwords in the academic community, with massive efforts to reconstruct environments to end destructive behaviors into more favorable and thriving situations. Yet the harsh polarizing defenses employed to keep strict closures and the quarantine of all — well, vulnerable, sick, and healthy — runs counter to the very foundations of these priorities when addressing children and youth in physical and mental health by addressing a variety of factors, including family income and socialization.

There was a need to understand this virus — its transmission and presentation — and to have a temporary intervention to contain and mitigate its spread. This virus from Wuhan is here to stay. But keeping businesses closed, workers unemployed, and government printing and borrowing money is neither sustainable nor healthy for adults, teens, or families. Yes, isolation kills. But it kills more than the viral transmission of a pathogen. It also kills an individual’s well-being through work, self-reliance, community, and ability to support a family.

The poison of political hatred, however, will cause a significant truth to be missed or dismissed: There’s a mountain of data and research demonstrating a wealth-health connection tying economic growth and work directly to better health and well-being.

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