In early September, the Roundtable held a two-part webinar series (which can be found here and here) on the effects of COVID-19 on the national economy and its relation to rising rates of diseases and deaths of despair. Below are several key takeaways from the discussion, as well as examples of programs pivoting to address new challenges in real time.
Diseases of despair are on the rise. Since 2018, rates of depression have quadrupled and rates of anxiety have tripled. This June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use, and over 25% of young adults reported that they have contemplated suicide.
Unemployment is connected to mental health. According the Meadows Mental Health Policy Center, for every 1% increase in unemployment, there is a 1.6% increase in deaths by suicide. Between April and May, shortly after the start of the pandemic, 22 million people lost their jobs, exceeding unemployment levels of any recent recession. Although the economy is recovering, about 13 million people remain unemployed.
Economic recovery does not equal mental well-being. Consequences of unemployment compound with time; loss of skills, financial problems, and strains on family relationships are all forms of toxic stress that linger and affect families even after jobs are recovered.
Civil society has a key role in helping vulnerable communities recover. Factors such as industry, geography, race, and gender all influence unemployment rates, and vary widely across the country as policymakers and communities react differently to the outbreak. Civil institutions such as non-profits, churches, schools, and community foundations or local philanthropy can advocate and intervene with tailored approaches on behalf of their communities.