Epidemiologists have a slew of tools to judge the damage that the coronavirus and the disease it causes--COVID-19--does to public health.
But other significant consequences must be included to describe the total damage the pandemic is causing--factors beyond the number of deaths, ICU admissions and such. Among them is the damage caused by the gloom that mandated isolation causes to mental health, in the form of increased depression, anxiety and abuse.
For example, the Kaiser Family Foundation's tracking poll, conducted March 25 to 30, found that 45 percent of adults surveyed say the pandemic has affected their mental health. Nineteen percent said it has a “major impact.”
Just as the pandemic's dire physical health problems fall heaviest on disadvantaged groups, so also do the mental health troubles, with black and Hispanic adults suffering the worst. The self-identified mental health troubles are slightly higher among women than men. Yet all demographic groups report higher levels negative impact on their mental health.
Perhaps the worst news is about children, including the increased abuse at the hands of adults who can't deal with being cooped up for weeks and weeks. Forbes reports that the United Nations warns that "Coronavirus Depression Could Kill Hundreds Of Thousands Of Children This Year"
The United Nations warned Thursday that the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic may be more dangerous than the virus itself for the world’s children, claiming that in 2020 hundreds of thousands could die and tens of millions more be plunged into poverty.
The key facts, according to the article are:
- With the world possibly facing the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, U.N. officials say the financial effects of the pandemic could have devastating effects on the world’s children by limiting families’ ability to afford essential food and healthcare.
- The U.N. estimates that between 42 million and 66 million children could fall into poverty as a result of coronavirus—in addition to the estimated 386 million children living in extreme poverty last year—and could lead to malnutrition and an increase in preventable diseases in children.
- This could cause hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths before the end of the year, the U.N. said, and reverse the progress made over the past several years in reducing infant mortality.
- According to the U.N., the strain on healthcare systems caused by coronavirus has also prevented families from being able to access standard care and immunizations against diseases like polio, measles and other deadly diseasesthat kill children.
The New York Times details some of the dire mental health consequences and how to combat them at: When the Pandemic Leaves Us Alone, Anxious and Depressed. We are in a dual crisis of physical and mental health. But there are ways to head off breakdowns.
I've made this point before (risking the label of being "anti-science), but the world we are now in is much, much more than a pandemic caused by a virus. We are in an unknown world, experiencing challenges , limitations and behaviors the likes of which we've never faced.
So, when the debate rages about when to "open up" the country, there are many, many more consequences to weigh than the death rate and hospital admissions. We need to be open-minded about identifying and dealing with all the consequences of finding ourselves in this strange land. Instead, some people want to turn that debate into a partisan political battle. They do us no service.
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