COVID, lockdowns and misery

Weren’t we lonely enough before?

The effects of unemployment, bankruptcy, anxiety, loneliness and, of course, ill health do not appear at once. How bad has 2020 been?

Like most people, I have had a rotten 2020. I have missed my family. I have missed my friends. My work has been disrupted. With that said, I do not live alone. I have a job. I have my health. Really, I’m among the lucky ones. People who have endured isolation, unemployment and ill health have had a far more miserable time. 

In such a gloomy period, it’s natural to think about the consequences for people’s mental health. Lockdown-induced loneliness and virus-induced stress seem liable to have lasting effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that ‘symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States’ during the summer compared to the summer months of 2019.

How serious is the problem? Let’s consider the most serious of questions: have rates of suicide risen since the start of the pandemic? The evidence is mixed. Dr Jeremy Faust argues in the Washington Post that in Massachusetts, which has had some of the longer, stricter shutdowns, they have not. 

According to CNN, however, there has been a rise in suicides among soldiers, ‘raising questions about whether troops feeling isolated due to the coronavirus pandemic may be a contributing factor’. Suicide ideation, especially among younger adults, has increased and suicide ideation is often, if by no means always, associated with suicide attempts.

The severity of the psychic consequences of this year remain to be seen. The effects of unemployment, bankruptcy, anxiety, loneliness and, of course, ill health, do not appear at once. Only years into the future will their full scale be known.

Yet we can predict some things. A Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health study found ‘every economic/financial crisis since 1970, except the European Exchange Rate Mechanism crisis in 1992, led to excess suicides in developed countries.’ With all due respect to the [ … ]

What do you think?

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