President Trump has backed away from saying he wants Americans to get back to their norms as soon as possible. But he continues to warn that if things do not go back to normal soon, there will be a great deal of self-inflicted human loss.
During Sunday’s news briefing in the Rose Garden, the president warned of an increase in the suicide rate in response to an economic downturn.
“You’re going to have mental depression for people,” he said. “You’re going to have large numbers of suicides. Take a look at what happens in a really horrible recession or worse. So you’re going to have tremendous suicides.”
“You will see drugs being used like nobody’s ever used them before, and people are going to be dying all over the place from drug addiction,” Trump added.
This wasn’t the first time the president warned that there would be an increase in the number of lives lost.
During a Fox News town hall this month, Trump said one motivation for his desire to reopen America’s businesses is the fatal outcomes of an economic downturn.
“You’re going to have suicides by the thousands,” he said.
And at a news briefing last week, he said that “people get tremendous anxiety and depression, and you have suicides over things like this when you have terrible economies. You have death. Probably and — I mean, definitely — would be in far greater numbers than the numbers that we’re talking about with regard to the virus.”
The economy has already entered a deep recession with “echoes of the Great Depression in the way it has devastated so many businesses and consumers,” according to The Post’s Heather Long. But the things Trump warns of haven’t happened yet — at least not on a national level.
“The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has not experienced significant changes in call volume at this time,” Frances Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, told The Fix.
But some local police departments and statewide suicide prevention hotlines are showing signs of an increase.
The Portland, Ore., Police Department reported a 23 percent increase in suicide calls between March 12 and 22 compared to the 10 days before the city’s coronavirus state of emergency, according to the Oregonian.
And Samaritans, a Massachusetts organization that runs a 24-7 suicide crisis hotline, usually receives 250 to 275 calls a day, according to the Boston Globe. That number reached about 350 calls a day last week.
According to the British Medical Journal, male suicides jumped by nearly 9 percent in 2009 in the United States after the global financial crash of 2008. There was a relatively smaller jump — 2.3 percent — in American women.
Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project, which is aimed at ending suicide, told The Fix that these increases in suicide calls are not surprising given the dread that some people experience in rough economic times. But she said that solutions exist for those struggling with their mental health.
We know that at times like this there are increases in mental health difficulties and depression and anxiety and even suicide will be things we must pay attention to particularly those that are vulnerable, but the good news is that if we pay attention to the right things mental health issues are treatable. One of the very important things that we do know is that the CDC tells us that one of the most important things we can do to prevent suicide is to be connected. One of the things that we really need to pay attention to in this kind of unprecedented scenario of increasing social isolation that is defined by people being disconnected, we must try to mitigate that in every way we can. And fortunately, we can do that and we are all within reach with phone calls, face time and social media.
Gerstenhaber, a psychiatry professor at Columbia, said the best way for Trump and other political leaders to protect Americans struggling with mental health is to make sure that people are aware of the resources that exist to get the help that they need.
“We need them to practice as clear communication as possible about available resources and really focus on highlighting the resources that we need to take care of the mental health,” she said. “Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation, and that’s the message we need to hear.”
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