OVERLOOKED: Lockdown Depression & Suicides


"We can't be obsessed with one risk to the exclusion of others..."

--Joe Getty

"You shouldn't have more people in the hospital on suicide watch, than are being treated for COVID-19'

--Jack Armstrong

As heard on The Armstrong & Getty Show, a letter about how our fixation on COVID-19 health issues has lead us to ignore mental health issues associated with the lockdown.

Last week the wife of a longtime client came in to cancel his contract with us. Is there a problem?

She takes a deep breath, "We had to close our shop. We lost everything..... [he] killed himself last week."

Two days later a client who works in the suicide watch wing of our hospital's psych ward mentioned that they had 30 people admitted for 'round-the-clock surveillance.

Is that a lot? "Record numbers... We've never had anything close to this" As a point of comparison, there were only 9 Covid patients hospitalized.

I shared these stories with the moms at my daughter's soccer practice.

One knew a 5th grader who had committed suicide recently.

Then there's the 12-year-old boy in Texas who hung himself three days before his birthday (as told via the heartbreaking Dad video--"I believe my son would be alive today if he had been in school").

The smiley 15-year-old softball player who's mom is similarly speaking out in Stockton, and two other teens in Sacramento.

The wonderful principal's letter you shared last week mentions "multiple" suicides in his community.

Cook County, IL has reported a stark rise in suicides in its black community, already surpassing last year's total in July.The youngest was 9.

And a number of other communities are reporting similar spikes in suicides and attempts.

But because comprehensive suicide statistics lag about two years behind, we won't how many others we've lost to the shutdown until it's too late. We only have these anecdotal tragedies or piecemeal stats from a county here or city there, with thousands of cases sitting on coroners' desks awaiting a cause of death to be assigned. Eventually they'll all be filed and make their way through the reporting system and one day in 2022 there will be a press release and the media will bemoan this devastating side effect of the shutdown and moronic talking heads will say somberly, "If only we had known then...."

WE FREAKING KNOW RIGHT NOW!

People recognize that their own kids seem down. Restless. That they're turning into screen zombies. Addicted to social media. We know that tens of thousands of businesses will never reopen. There are countless articles about suicide hotlines being overwhelmed and mental health professionals warning of a likely increase in suicides due to Covid-related stresses, but ultimately they all throw up their hands and conclude, "But there's no data to truly know..."

WE. DO. KNOW.

In August, a survey of students reported a third experiencing depression, almost 25% know of someone with suicidal thoughts and 5% of both college and high school students said they themselves had made a suicide attempt during the pandemic. 5%! Wait, sorry, what percentage of Americans have died of Covid so far? Oh right, only 0.06%!

I get that the media shies away from talking about suicide for fear of copycat syndrome. So instead of endless discussion and hand-wringing over the what-ifs and probabilities, how about we just take these anecdotal accounts at face value and trust the experts flashing warning signs, pray that it's not already too late and OPEN UP THE SCHOOLS and OPEN UP THE ECONOMY and LET PEOPLE MAKE THEIR OWN CHOICES about what is best for themselves and their families. The teachers who don't want to go back can stay home and keep Zoom teaching the kids whose families don't want them to go back yet.

My plea isn't even for my own family. We are among the lucky ones... our kids have been back in school in-person full-time since June and they are having taekwondo lessons and club soccer practice and soon even flag football might be coming back. I tell everyone that when they returned to school it was like someone flipped on the "joy" switch, even though today they'll still tell you "school sucks" -- LIKE NORMAL KIDS -- so even more so it breaks my heart for the kids who are still stuck at home in isolation, missing their friends, the teenagers who are missing the on-campus experience of their first year of uni, missing the glory of their senior year at quarterback, etc etc etc...not to mention all the adults we know who have lost or who still fear losing their businesses and all the people who are telling us that their elderly parent had been in fine health but died during lockdown, cause of death: "failure to thrive" aka loneliness.

Dammit. Let's allow people to weigh the risks and choose how to live!!!!

Also... sorry for the long, downer-topic rant to start the week. Again.