We suggested, at the beginning of April, that a "suicide wave" was imminent considering the economic devastation sparked by COVID-19 lockdowns. In the last nine weeks, 38.6 million Americans have lost their jobs and were thrown into instant poverty. Many were already skating on thin financial ice even before the pandemic, and now they've fallen through, drowning in insurmountable debts, no savings, and limited lifelines.
The first signs of a suicide wave could be originating in California. ABC7 News reports doctors and nurses at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, are reporting deaths by suicide far exceed COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic.
The hospital's top trauma doctor, Dr. Mike deBoisblanc, told ABC7 that mental health has become a major problem during the shelter-in-place order.
"Personally I think it's time," said deBoisblanc. "I think, originally, this (the shelter-in-place order) was put in place to flatten the curve and to make sure hospitals have the resources to take care of COVID patients. We have the current resources to do that and our other community health is suffering."
DeBoisblanc said the numbers are unprecedented:
"We've never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time," he said. "I mean we've seen a year's worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks."
Kacey Hansen, a trauma nurse at the hospital for over three decades, said the volume of suicide attempts has dramatically increased during the lockdowns, noting the pandemic has stretched resources, which means there are fewer tools to save as many patients as usual.
"What I have seen recently, I have never seen before," Hansen said. "I have never seen so much intentional injury."
As we've noted in the past, hospital systems do not let doctors and nurses speak out about internal affairs and or what's happening in the community unless cleared by officials. It appears the outreach of hospital staff to the local news outlet is a move to address the mental health public crisis sparked by lockdowns in the Bay Area. The hospital released this statement:
"John Muir Health has been, and continues to be, supportive of the Shelter-in-Place order put in place by Contra Costa County Health Services to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We realize there are a number of opinions on this topic, including within our medical staff, and John Muir Health encourages our physicians and staff to participate constructively in these discussions. We all share a concern for the health of our community whether that is COVID-19, mental health, intentional violence or other issues. We continue to actively work with our Behavioral Health Center, County Health and community organizations to increase awareness of mental health issues and provide resources to anyone in need. If you are in a crisis and need help immediately, please call 211 or 800-833-2900 or text 'HOPE' to 20121 now. We are all in this together, and ask the community to please reach out to anyone who you think might be in need during this challenging time. Thank you."
In addition to the +90,000 and counting virus-related deaths, Well Being Trust recently outlined how 75,000 people could die of drug or alcohol misuse and or suicide during the pandemic.
President Trump warned in March that nationwide lockdowns must be reversed to prevent "tremendous death" from the economic depression, referring to the likely increase of suicides.
"People get tremendous anxiety and depression and you have suicide over things like this, when you have a terrible economy, you have death," President Trump said.
President Trump on economy: "We can't turn that off and think it's going to be wonderful. There'll be tremendous repercussions. There will be tremendous death...probably more death from that than anything that we're talking about with respect to the virus." pic.twitter.com/82WEb4HJ8z— CSPAN (@cspan) March 23, 2020
And with any recession and or depression, high unemployment results in financial distress for people and eventually triggers mental health problems.
"The 2008 Great Recession resulted in more than 10,000 suicides. The Great Depression resulted in tens of thousands of people taking their own lives. If the economy continues to be shuttered through April and or even May, then the depression will deepen, and suicides will increase. That is just the nature of the beast," we noted in early April.
As a second virus wave lingers, threats of additional lockdowns in the coming months, and no signs the economy with experience a V-shaped recovery this year -- it appears the suicide wave has already begun.