75,000 American Deaths Predicted From Overdose and Suicide During COVID-19 Pandemic
The growing unemployment crisis, the stress of self-isolation and the fear of contracting the novel coronavirus are likely to lead to as many as 75,000 deaths due to drug or alcohol misuse and suicide, according to an analysis conducted by the national public health group Well Being Trust and reported on by CNN.
Not knowing when a sense of normalcy will return may lead to an increase in what the group calls "deaths of despair." Federal agencies and experts warn that a crisis in mental health problems is on the horizon: depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide, according to The Washington Post.
"Unless we get comprehensive federal, state, and local resources behind improving access to high quality mental health treatments and community supports, I worry we're likely to see things get far worse when it comes to substance misuse and suicide," Well Being Trust's chief strategy officer Dr. Benjamin F. Miller told CNN.
Miller emphasized that the numbers are just a projection and could easily change with a bit of intervention.
"We can change the numbers — the deaths have not happened yet. However, it is on us to take action now," Miller said to CNN.
Already, communities across the country have seen an increase in overdoses. In Jacksonville, Florida, the fire and rescue department reported a 20 percent increase in overdose emergency calls in March. There were similar spikes in Columbus, Ohio and in at least four counties in New York State, according to ABC News.
"I think we need to consider the role that social isolation coupled with non-stop reporting on the pandemic may have on the feelings of desperation and hopelessness among those struggling with substance abuse," U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York James Kennedy Jr. said in a statement, as ABC News reported. "Amidst the current crisis, we need to remember that substance abuse existed long before COVID-19, and it will likely remain long after we have wiped out the virus."
Similar to the way hospitals were caught unprepared for a pandemic, the U.S. mental health system, which is underfunded, stigmatized and difficult to access, is less prepared to handle a mounting crisis.
"That's what is keeping me up at night," said Susan Borja, who leads the traumatic stress research program at the National Institute of Mental Health, to The Washington Post. "I worry about the people the system just won't absorb or won't reach. I worry about the suffering that's going to go untreated on such a large scale."
The Well Being Trust looked at the impact unemployment, isolation and uncertainty had in certain areas to create a detailed map of where it expects to see spikes in suicide and overdose-related deaths for the next decade. They used historical data to make their predictions, noting that overdoses and suicides increased in tandem with the unemployment rate during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, as CNN reported.
Well Being Trust predicts the most deaths per capita will occur in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, West Virginia, Rhode Island and Delaware, according to CNN.
The group said that federal, state and local authorities should try to find opportunity within the crisis. For instance, people could be hired for contact tracing. They also said that more leeway should be granted to telemedicine for mental health to increase access to services.
"This screams for an opportunity to examine what wasn't working about mental health delivery prior to COVID and examine new strategies to create a new and more integrated approach to mental health post-COVID," said Miller, as CNN reported.
More people are seeking help. Talkspace, an online therapy company, has seen a 65 percent increase in clients since mid-February.
"People are really afraid," Talkspace co-founder and CEO Oren Frank said to The Washington Post. The increasing demand for services, he said, follows almost exactly the geographic march of the virus across the U.S. "What's shocking to me is how little leaders are talking about this. There are no White House briefings about it. There is no plan."
Well Being Trust believes the rising issue of mental health issues could be addressed and mitigated.
"The models we have created rely on the way it happened before. When our communities were faced with rising unemployment, social isolation and individual uncertainty the people suffered and that led to increased deaths of despair. It might be different," they said in their report, according to CNN.
"By taking stock of the current crisis, predicting the potential loss of life, and creatively deploying local community solutions, it may be possible to prevent the impending deaths of despair. We should not sit idly by, waiting for 75,000 more deaths of despair."
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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