A study found a significant increase in deaths of despair during the pandemic

I have written before about how detrimental the lockdowns have been on general wellbeing. Children, for instance, have had their well-being significantly impacted by school closures. Additionally, so many regions of the country faced an increase in mental stress cases, suicide contemplations (especially among young adults). One study in May projected that as many as 75,000 Americans were at risk of dying from overdose or suicide.

One new recent paper confirms most of these earlier fears. The coronavirus has been associated with an increase in deaths of despair. According to a new NBER paper, data shows evidence suggesting that “the pandemic and recession were associated with a 10 to 60 percent increase in deaths of despair above already high pre-pandemic levels.”

Deaths of despair are defined as those deaths related to drug overdose, suicide, and alcohol abuse. Generally, empirical evidence constantly shows that economic hardships are associated with an increased occurrence of these types of deaths. Sudden shocks to unemployment and loss of income can be detrimental to mental wellbeing, especially when it comes to already economically disadvantaged individuals. Moreover, the coronavirus has been associated with extended periods of isolation which are harmful to well-being.

As the author of the study concluded,

Mortality in 2020 significantly exceeds what would have occurred if official COVID deaths were combined with a normal number of deaths from other causes. The demographic and time patterns of the non-COVID excess deaths (NCEDs) point to deaths of despair rather than an undercount of COVID deaths. The flow of NCEDs increased steadily from March to June and then plateaued. They were disproportionately experienced by working aged men, including men as young as aged 15 to 24.

The results of the paper are especially consistent with CDC numbers as the author explains,

The CDC reports twelve-month moving sums of deaths from drug overdose. Each new sum involves dropping the month from 13 months ago and inserting the most recent month. During the nine months before the pandemic, each new moving sum averaged 680 deaths more than the previous. In March 2020, the new sum was 1,511 above the previous sum. April’s sum was 2,146 above that. May’s sum was 3,388 above April’s.

This data confirms the paper’s findings that Non-Covid Excess deaths were significantly high between March and September. And additionally, the CDC data also credits synthetic opioids like Fentanyl as a leading cause of the increase through May.

While the study does not get deeper into the specific causes of the increase in the deaths of despair, a lot of evidence affirms how damaging the lockdowns have been to the young and working populations, both socially and economically.