As public health officers and other government officials continue COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and strict public health measures, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows deaths from opioid overdoses and Alzheimer’s disease have risen and more young adults are suffering from mental health problems and contemplating suicide.
The latest numbers, released on August 14 and reflecting data gathered between June 24 and June 30, show 10.7 percent of U.S. adults contemplated suicide in the last 12 months. Among adults aged 18-24, 25 percent reported suicide ideation in the last 30 days. In 2018, 4.3 percent of adults considered suicide at some time in the year.
Comparing the two periods in 2020 and 2019, anxiety disorder among all adults is three times as common this year (25.5 percent vs. 8.1 percent) and depressive disorder is four times as common (24.3 percent vs. 6.5 percent).
“We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield on July 14 at a Buck Institute webinar. “We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess,” says Redfield.
The CDC is still updating rates from 2019, however, one in 10 adults reported starting or increasing substance abuse. In 2019, there were 70,980 fatal drug overdoses in the United States, according to the CDC.
Alzheimer’s deaths have also increased during the lockdowns. The CDC reports nearly 100,000 people died from Alzheimer’s and dementia from February through May, 18 percent higher than the average incidence for those disorders. Not all of the increase is attributable to deaths from COVID-19 infections, the CDC reports.
Lockdown Collateral Damage
Individuals who suffer from mental illness or dementia-related conditions bear a higher burden from COVID-19 restrictions, to the detriment of their overall health, says Robert Emmons, M.D., a psychiatrist and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News.
“Quarantine policies during the COVID-19 pandemic have created a burden of social isolation, a burden which falls most heavily on patients of limited economic means, cognitive impairment, and chronic psychotic illness,” said Emmons. “Social isolation exacerbates preexisting symptoms.”.
Public health officials must focus more on these populations and their mental health needs, instead of prioritizing COVID-19 over all other serious illnesses, says Emmons.
“Finding ways to increase social contact for these populations is a low-tech intervention with the potential to employ able-bodied individuals currently sidelined from work,” said Emmons. “Finding ways to target quarantine policies more precisely, in order to permit visits between patients and low-risk family members, is another potentially powerful, no-cost intervention that has the potential to dramatically improve clinical outcomes.”
As lockdowns and restrictions continue, individuals with life-threatening conditions or whose treatment and diagnoses are delayed are having serious negative outcomes, says Jeffrey Singer, M.D., a surgeon and senior fellow with the Cato Institute.
“Public health officials and policymakers are not giving enough consideration to the tradeoffs involved in pandemic policy,” said Singer. “Many people with life-threatening conditions, acute or chronic, that have significant fatality rates, are ignored or neglected when public health policy focuses almost exclusively on controlling a virus that has an infection fatality rate somewhere below 1 percent.”
Government mandates have kept people from seeking medical attention when they need it, says Singer.
“We are already seeing increases in stroke, heart attack, and advanced cancer patients as their evaluation and treatment have been delayed or cancelled by statewide lockdowns and blanket bans on elective procedures,” said Singer.
Patients have held off seeking medical attention until they couldn’t avoid it, says Singer.
“In my surgical practice, we are seeing patients present to emergency rooms in critical condition from acute surgical emergencies, such as a ruptured appendix or strangulated hernia, because they waited far too long to seek attention, out of fear of COVID-19,” said Singer.
Kelsey Hackem, J.D., (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from the state of Washington.