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Putting One Covid Concern/Theory To Rest

April 06, 2021 12:17PM
New data disproves a big concern about Covid-19 lockdowns

Critics of lockdowns claimed they would cause a spike in suicides. That didn’t happen.

By German Lopez@germanrlopezgerman.lopez@vox.com Apr 6, 2021, 8:40am EDT

Last year, as then-President Donald Trump railed against Covid-19 lockdowns and called on states to reopen their economies, he claimed the shutdowns would lead to a spike in suicides: “You’re going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression. You’re going to lose people. You’re going to have suicides by the thousands.”

But new data suggests that the number of suicides actually decreased in the US last year. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, suicides totaled fewer than 45,000 in 2020, down from about 47,500 in 2019 and more than 48,000 in 2018.

So far, this seems to be true globally. England saw no increase in suicides in the aftermath of lockdowns, Louis Appleby, a researcher on suicide and self-harm at the University of Manchester, wrote for the medical journal BMJ. The same seems to be true in other nations, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, and Sweden, based on data for the first few months of lockdowns around the globe.

“Our conclusions at this stage, however, should be cautious. These are early findings and may change,” Appleby wrote in BMJ. “Beneath the overall numbers there may be variations between demographic groups or geographical areas. After all, the impact of covid-19 itself has not been uniform across communities.”

Still, the news overall seems good.

Trump wasn’t alone in his concerns. For much of 2020, this was a popular argument among opponents of lockdowns — that the measures would lead to an increase in suicides. Various news articles have echoed the claim in some form, exemplified by the recent New York Times headline, “Suicide and Self-Harm: Bereaved Families Count the Costs of Lockdowns.”

It’s all wrapped up in an argument that lockdowns weren’t worth the costs. As Trump put it, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”

The reality is lockdowns worked to contain the spread of Covid-19, based on studies from Health Affairs, The Lancet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others. And experts now widely agree that it was the US’s move to reopen too quickly, fueled in part by Trump’s claims, that made the country one of the worst in the world for Covid-19 deaths.

That’s not to say the lockdowns were costless. The emotional anguish brought by isolation and lack of social contact, as well as the economic calamity of the last year, are both clear examples of the downsides to lockdowns — even if the measures were ultimately worth it in the face of a deadly pandemic.

According to one CDC study, self-reported mental distress increased in the early months of the pandemic (though it’s not clear if lockdowns were the cause).

Another category of “deaths of despair” — drug overdoses — also appeared to increase dramatically last year: The latest data shows there were more than 88,000 overdose deaths in the year through August 2020, up from nearly 70,000 in the same time period of 2019. It’s plausible that lockdowns fueled overdoses as people turned to drugs during isolation or as addiction treatment and harm reduction services closed down, though it’s also possible that the increase was driven by something else, like the continued spread of the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl in illicit drug markets.

There’s also genuine debate about how the lockdowns worked. Based on the more recent evidence, it seems like mass closings of schools were ultimately misguided — as children and schools ended up not being major vectors of the coronavirus’s spread. Meanwhile, the risky indoor spaces many states pushed to reopen quickly, like bars and restaurants, have proven to be significant sources of outbreaks. All of that suggests the US may have closed down the wrong places, while reopening the wrong places too.

At the very least, though, it seems lockdowns didn’t produce one of the bad effects people initially feared.


A couple of notes:

1. For those not trusting the media outlet that published the article, I've linked the stats collected by the NVSS (National Vital Statistics System) here . You can check for yourself minus any perceived "spin." The NVSS The NVSS collects, processes, tabulates, and disseminates vital statistics based on death certificates filed in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

2. Although I never thought for a second that "the cure would be worse than the disease," I definitely thought that we'd see an increase in suicides of some sorts. Though one suicide is one too many, the fact that the reported number of suicides actually went down last year is, in fact, good news.

3. But, of course, the answer to one question only prompts another: Why did the number of suicides go down?

4. Finally, in looking at the stats, it's quite clear that Covid isn't "just like the flu."

  Putting One Covid Concern/Theory To Rest

ramBRO58April 06, 2021 12:17PM

  "......suicides by the thousands"..... my reaction....

RAMbler27April 06, 2021 01:53PM

  Re: Putting One Covid Concern/Theory To Rest

zn24April 06, 2021 02:08PM

  Re: Putting One Covid Concern/Theory To Rest

ramBRO19April 06, 2021 03:24PM

  Re: Putting One Covid Concern/Theory To Rest

zn21April 06, 2021 04:49PM

  Did you actually read it?

PHDram15April 07, 2021 03:22AM

  you misread it

zn20April 07, 2021 03:56AM

  Re: you misread it

PHDram17April 07, 2021 04:30AM

  Re: you misread it

zn21April 07, 2021 04:52AM

  Re: you misread it

PHDram13April 07, 2021 05:48AM

  (since this is the covid thread) Pfizer, Moderna effective for 6 months

zn19April 09, 2021 05:32AM