Public health specialists in the US are warning that mass shutdowns of businesses and schools to enforce social distancing measures over the coronavirus outbreak will lead to thousands of deaths and suicides that are unrelated to the disease itself.
The US and other countries have taken sweeping suppression steps to combat the coronavirus that could last for months or more, and the longer the suppression lasts, the worse the unintended outcomes will be, Reuters said in a report, citing interviews with researchers.
During the 2007-2009 economic recession, the bleak job market triggered a surge in suicide rates in the United States and Europe, claiming the lives of 10,000 more people than prior to the downturn, researchers found.
A surge of unemployment in 1982 also cut the life spans of Americans by a collective two to three million years. This time, such effects could be even deeper in the weeks, months and years ahead if, as many business and political leaders are warning, the economy crashes and unemployment skyrockets to historic levels.
A surge in unemployment to 20 percent in Western economies, which is a common forecast now, could cause an additional 20,000 suicides in the United States and Europe among the jobless, the report said.
A recent report by researchers from Imperial College London found that the coronavirus could kill 2 million people in the US and 500,000 in the UK unless their governments enforced strict social distancing measures.
In the United States and Europe, suicide rates rise about 1 percent for every one percentage point increase in unemployment, according to research published by Oxford University.
“Sadly, I think there is a good chance we could see twice as many suicides over the next 24 months than we saw during the early part of the last recession,” Reeves told Reuters. That would be about 20,000 additional dead by suicide in the United States and Europe.
However, researchers say that such severe responses will trigger health impacts of their own, over the short, mid and long term.
Already, there are reports that isolation measures in the US and Europe are triggering more domestic violence in some areas.
Trapped at home with their abusers, some domestic violence victims in the US are already suffering more frequent and extreme violence, Katie Ray-Jones, the chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told Reuters.
Domestic violence programs across the US have cited increases in calls for help, Reuters said in its report. “There are special populations that are going to have impacts that go way beyond COVID-19,” said Ray-Jones, citing domestic violence victims as one.
Rises in unemployment during large recessions can set in motion a domino effect of reduced income, additional stress and unhealthy lifestyles. Those setbacks in income and health often mean people die earlier, said Till von Wachter, a University of California Los Angeles professor who researches the impact of job loss.