What Are Deaths of Despair, And Could COVID-19 Worsen Them?

Many experts predict that COVID-19 and its ancillary effects on American society could also trigger a surge of so-called “deaths of despair” in the United States. In other words, the amount of stress, fear, and uncertainty accompanying this global health crisis could spark a rise in the number of overdose-related deaths and suicides.

To give you a breakdown of COVID-19’s role in the United States, the New York Times recently reported that almost five million Americans have become infected with the novel coronavirus. Some of these people are currently hospitalized, while nearly half have already recovered. Others, unfortunately, didn’t get as lucky.

The rate of infection for COVID-19 hasn’t slowed in the United States since March 2020; over 40,000 people, on average, in the United States, are now consistently getting COVID-19 every day. That’s some scary velocity.

Man in suit and covid mask sits on stairs, visibly upset; part of population at risk of deaths of despair.

At the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, many Americans assumed the virus would be under control by fall of 2020 – even by the end of the summer – but there doesn’t seem to be an end to this global health crisis (or a return to pre-COVID normality) in sight. In fact, a harsher reality now appears to be sprinting in the opposite direction (towards thousands of testing centers and unemployment offices).

COVID-19 has negatively influenced the physical health of millions of Americans. But what about the mental health of those that get COVID-19, or those that are worried they’ll get the virus? What about citizens who have lost their jobs as a direct result of this pandemic, or those who had to quit their jobs because of a pre-existing condition that puts them at higher risk for dangerous COVID-related symptoms? What is this unprecedented and wildly erratic time doing to our sense of safety, control, and normalcy?

Well, that leads us to the topic of “deaths of despair”. Deaths of despair involve tragic occurrences that can either directly or indirectly result from especially stressful times, situations, and mental illnesses. Although not entirely preventable, becoming aware of deaths of despair, and identifying their potential triggers, can help you protect yourself and your loved ones from further suffering.

What Are Deaths of Despair?

Deaths of despair are not new phenomena. In fact, many sociologists, physicians, and other international experts speak urgently of deaths of despair in the United States, and how certain sociological factors may contribute to their growing rates in specific populations.

A “death of despair” refers to a fatality that results from having a mental illness (suicide, for example, in the case of depression) or overdose of a mind-altering drug, such as an opioid or alcohol.

In 2018, over 60,000 people died directly from drug overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Deaths of despair are higher in those typically plagued by the American dream (traditionally, those who are in America’s white working class who possess college degrees).

The rate of deaths of despair has been rising in recent years, unfortunately. In fact, for over three years, deaths-by-despair have continuously shortened the United State citizens’ average lifespan. The United States is now juggling two health crises: COVID-19 and mental health-related deaths, like opioid deaths.

How Could COVID-19 Cause Deaths of Despair?

COVID-19 has shaken up many of our daily lives (to say the least). It has brought a wide wave of new stressors to our shores and thrown highly unique situations directly into our laps. Many national and international health associations are warning countries to prepare for a surge in deaths of despair due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Opioid overdoses are already increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2020, the American Medical Association released a press release warning about the potential for COVID-19, as a phenomenon, to increase deaths related to drugs (specifically opioids) and suicide. This brief also outlined the increasing amount of opioid-related overdoses and other deaths-by-despair reports emerging in multiple states, and warned states to be prepared for more.

Some Americans are quarantined alone at their homes while others are stuck in a sea of toxic family members. Other people may be having a rough time finding work after being laid off due to the novel coronavirus, or worrying endlessly about how they will support their families, afford health care, and further their education. No matter the situation, there is no lack of people suffering from COVID-19 right now.

Business woman with covid mask sits on staircase in despair

Jobs are disappearing. Unemployment has reached record highs. Since the onset of the pandemic, over 160,000 people in the United States have lost their lives to COVID-19. With disturbing parallelism, deaths of despair in the United States, such as suicide, are now surpassing multiple other reasons for death in the American population such as lung cancer.

If there is ever a time that could influence our mental health, that time is during COVID-19.

Stress of this magnitude can undoubtedly pile onto the negative effects of mental illnesses, such as depression, and trigger addiction.

Addiction And COVID-19

COVID-19 presents a prime environment for the emergence of substance use disorders and other co-occurring mental health conditions. Addiction and substance abuse issues thrive in an isolated environment, where a drinker or user can’t easily access help for their condition.

While people are isolated, they may turn to drugs or alcohol to help themselves cope with their changing environment. Without other coping skills, people may turn to external substances to help them deal with job losses or loss of a family member or friend. Additionally, those in recovery from substance use disorders may be separated from their typical support network, making relapse an even more pressing issue.

Deaths of Despair: What To Do

It can be challenging to know how to handle when someone presents signs that could lead to a death of despair. If you believe yourself or a loved one may be at risk for death-by-despair, please contact Hotel California by the Sea to learn about your options, or contact another depression, suicide, or addiction hotline today.

How Can Mental Health Treatment Help?

Mental health treatment is a broad term that describes the many therapeutic models that experts use to treat people struggling with mental health conditions, such as addiction or ADHD. Mental health treatment can be customized for people suffering from a wide range of mental disorders.

Serious mental illness can actually shorten someone’s life expectancy and inhibit their immune system, making getting adequate treatment even more necessary for these individuals. Not only are those who suffer from a mental health condition frequently under high amounts of stress, but they may also find themselves in wildly dangerous situations due to their illness.

Sober woman outside in sunshine taking off covid mask, free from depression and no longer at risk of death of despair

Mental health treatment teaches those who suffer from a mental health condition how to cope with their illness. In mental health treatment, whether this treatment is on an outpatient basis or takes place in an inpatient hospital setting, clients learn about their illness and how to cope with and manage it in their daily lives. Mental health treatment may help reduce the rate of deaths of despair.

Inpatient Addiction Treatment at Hotel California by the Sea

Hotel California by the Sea treats people struggling with substance use disorders and other co-occurring mental health problems. So-called deaths of despair are often directly or indirectly related to drug use and abuse. By attending rehab for a drug or alcohol addiction, one may be able to address their substance abuse issues and overcome their illness, rather than face a dangerous fate.

Reach out to our care specialists to learn more about how we help amazing individuals recover from addiction and other mental health conditions every day.

To lower the rate of deaths of despair in the United States, we must take a hard look at how we are treating our fellow citizens, what access they have to mental health coverage, and the. Hotel California by the Sea exists to address these issues for the United States. We provide inpatient and outpatient addiction for those suffering from addiction to drugs or alcohol.

At Hotel California by the Sea, we commit to reducing the amount of deaths by despair in the United States every day through the extensive programs we offer to those struggling with addiction. We help people recover from addiction and develop the necessary coping skills to beat their mental illnesses. We also are working to prevent the contraction or spread of COVID-19 in our facilities. Learn more about our programs here.