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Michigan could see 3,000 additional deaths of despair related to the coronavirus outbreak

Dan Cox

A new report projects Michigan could see an additional three-thousand deaths of despair over the next decade because of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus.

The report, from a Washington D.C. based health-policy group called the Robert Graham Center, uses data from previous economic downturns to make its predictions.

Previous studies have show that for each increased point of unemployment, suicide and drug overdose rates increase from 1% to 1.6%.

Jake Westfall is Director of the Center. He said given continued social isolation - suicide rates will likely be even higher.

“While our numbers are based on the economic downturn in unemployment we predict that will be a little bit higher based on the social isolation and the scale of the social isolation.”

Nationally, the report predicts between 28,000 and 154,000 additional deaths of despair, depending on the speed of economic recovery.

“I don’t anticipate that social isolation is going away in the next 2-3 months,” Westfall said. “Even after we start reopening there will be a period between 2-5 years where people continue to feel disconnected.”

Westfall said the report is not intended to push for reopening the country. Rather, he said, it will be important for mental health care professionals to reach out to people in need - even if that’s through a computer or telephone.

Westfall believes the report underlines the importance of connecting individuals to mental health care during - and after - the pandemic.

Nationally, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on black and latino populations. Westfall said he expects the mental health impacts will follow a similar trend.

“We need to pay extra attention in this recovery phase to minimize deaths of despair in communities of color as well.”