FRIDAY, May 8, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Up to 75,000 more people could die from drug or alcohol misuse and suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released May 8 by the Well Being Trust (WBT) and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care.

Steve Petterson, Ph.D., from the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Robert Graham Center in Washington, D.C., and colleagues modeled the economic impact on mental health and deaths of despair based on the scientific literature of past events or estimates related to unemployment during economic downturns, social isolation, and the impact of uncertainty on suicide deaths, mental health, and drug overdose deaths.

The researchers found that across nine different scenarios, the additional deaths of despair range from 27,644 with a quick recovery and the smallest impact of unemployment on deaths of despair to 154,037 with slow recovery and the greatest impact of unemployment on deaths of despair, with 75,000 being the most likely. The authors suggest three policies can ameliorate a wave of deaths of despair, including mitigating the effects of unemployment; making access to care easier; and integrating care, particularly behavioral health and primary care.

“Undeniably, policymakers must place a large focus on mitigating the effects of COVID. However, if the country continues to ignore the collateral damage — specifically our nation’s mental health — we will not come out of this stronger,” Benjamin F. Miller, Psy.D., the chief strategy officer for WBT, said in a statement. “With all the other COVID-related investments, it’s time for the federal government to fully support a framework for excellence in mental health and well-being and invest in mental health now.”

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