A lot of times, people drown in plain sight. Largely because most of us haven’t been taught what to look for. We’re accustomed to the movie version of a person struggling in the water — flailing their arms and shrieking and gymnastic — but in real life drowning is quieter, something you could see and not realize. It’s never been harder than it is now, in 2020, as we’re all locked indoors, alone, out of sight.
Every year, an estimated one million people worldwide kill themselves. A death every 40 seconds.
America is in the throes of a suicide epidemic, with the highest suicide rate since World War II. Suicide rates have risen 30 percent since 1999, and the number keeps climbing. There were 45,000 suicide deaths in 2016 alone. In 2017, there were 47,000. Roughly 129 people a day.
In 2018, 10.7 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.3 million made a plan, and 1.4 million attempted suicide. There were 48,344 recorded suicides. That’s roughly one person every 11 minutes. And that’s 1,171 more people than the year before. The average American knows 600 people. Meaning, the increase of suicide deaths in one year was more than double the number of people you know. And that’s just the difference.
Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in this country. It is the second leading cause of death among children, and since 2000, there has been a worrying jump in the suicide rate of 15-to-24-year-olds.
In January, USA Today ran an article about the rising suicide rates, “More and more Americans are dying by suicide. What are we missing?
That was January. Three months before the pandemic sent all of us indoors.
An article in The BMJ, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal, points that “Widely reported studies modeling the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates predicted increases ranging from 1% to 145%.” In other words, “We really don’t know.”
So we can’t prove exactly how much damage the pandemic and the lockdowns have caused, or how many suicides there have been this year compared to last year because those numbers will take a while to assemble. But we can get an idea by measuring the scope and prevalence of the conditions that lead to suicide, and they are significantly higher in 2020. Because what’s not in doubt is that the pandemic has gravely affected people’s mental health.
For starters, while suicides tend to drop at the start of pandemics, they quickly increase in response to the conditions of quarantine. It’s also true that suicide rates increase during recessions.
A study in Science Advances journal noted that “as the rates of COVID-19 positive cases and deaths increased substantially across the United States, COVID-19–related acute stress and depressive symptoms increased over time in the United States.” A CDC report from August found that in 2020 compared to 2019, adults’ symptoms of anxiety have tripled and symptoms of depression have quadrupled (24.3% versus 6.5%). Compared to 2018, two different studies concluded that symptoms of depression and “serious psychological distress” are triple the level they were. In fact, the rates of anxiety and depression have been higher throughout the pandemic than “after other large-scale traumas like September 11th, Hurricane Katrina and the Hong Kong unrest.” Ten percent of Americans surveyed in June said they had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days.
French philosopher Albert Camus once wrote that “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
Well, we find ourselves — literally and figuratively — in the depths of winter.
Well, we find ourselves — literally and figuratively — in the depths of winter.
A number of studies warn about the danger posed by lockdowns. One in particular, published in Lancet, summarizes it well: “Most reviewed studies reported negative psychological effects including post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, and anger. Stressors included longer quarantine duration, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, financial loss, and stigma. Some researchers have suggested long-lasting effects.”
The report is very clear about how to minimize the harm of quarantine: Give people as much information as possible, reduce boredom, improve communication, emphasize altruism, and keep lockdowns as short as possible.
The pandemic and the lockdowns have been especially difficult, and even fatal, for one group in particular, but you might not have heard about it because the media is too obsessed with identity politics to stop for a moment and look at the bigger picture. I’m talking about the most important population: Children.
But they aren’t dying of Covid. In fact, children are more likely to die of homicides, drowning, or even fires and burns, than they are to die of Covid. The Academy of Pediatrics reported that, as of December 3rd, children accounted for slightly more than 0% of all COVID-19 cases, and even fewer deaths, about 0.11%, about 160 in total. There are still 15 states with zero reported child deaths. They don’t even catch it as often: They account for less than 2% of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases globally. Even here in America, the nation with the highest infection rates, that number is the same: 2%. And, when they do catch it, the overwhelming majority of them experience either no symptoms or mild symptoms. Another recent study found that, compared to the flu, children play a minimal role in spreading Covid-19, and most children who contract it actually get it from their parents.
So they rarely catch it, they almost never die because of it, and they don’t spread it. Yet, according to data from the CDC, the rate of children visiting emergency rooms has skyrocketed. Compared with 2019, the number of 5-11-year-olds is 24% higher, while the rate for 12-17-year-olds is 31% higher. This surge is due to mental health reasons.
According to a ton of studies (Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, and Here), during the pandemic, children of all ages have “had high rates of depression, anxiety, and pos-traumatic symptoms as expected in the aftermath of any disaster.”
The reality is unequivocal: The lockdowns and quarantines are bad for children. Certainly much, much worse than the disease itself, a point Donald Trump was heckled by the media for making. We waded through a sea of studies, reports, and articles, and the consensus was so consistent that we shifted our focus to looking for studies that said otherwise.
The International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction released a study this month that found that three in four children have reported having depression, and that “the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s mental well-being is worrying 60% of parents, according to a survey by parents with primary-aged children and 87% reported that their children were missing school and less than half stated that their children were feeling lonely, which altogether affects their children’s mental health and wellbeing.”
One study found that children of all age groups “showed more clinging, inattention, and irritability. However, 3-6 year-olds were more likely to manifest clinginess and fear that family members might contract the infection, while 6-18 year-olds were more likely to show inattention and persistent inquiry.” Another study found that “In many households, children who end up staying indoors become restless and, in some cases, violent.”
Children need predictability… and they need to believe that their parents are in control of things.
Uncertainty, social isolation, and parental angst. Children need predictability, they need activities, and they need to believe that their parents are in control of things. But, as a result of draconian lockdowns, they have spent much more time in front of screens. They are also more susceptible to sleep disruptions, or “somatic symptoms.” And they are at a much higher risk for sexual abuse and domestic abuse, and, without school, unable to escape it.
Like us, they’ll be dealing with the long term effects of the pandemic and lockdown for the rest of their lives. The difference is, we’re more equipped to handle it.
One report refers to the undue harm lockdowns cause children as “collateral damage,” adding that “we all have a responsibility to promote the health and well-being of children at home, and to ask questions and fight for service provision in areas where clinicians are not needed to fight COVID-19 but are needed to protect children.”
As a society, it is our duty to protect the defenseless, and there is no group of people more defenseless, yet more important, than children.
German philosopher Kant wrote a lot about suicide. His argument can basically be boiled down to two parts:
1) I ought to do my duty as long as I am alive; and
2) It is my duty to go on living as long as possible.
He used the anecdote of civilization as a human body. We must only harm our body if it’s necessary for self-preservation. If a toe is necrotic for whatever reason, we amputate it, so that we can preserve our body, our person, as a whole. Suicide, on the other hand, is an act of destruction. It is harmful, not just to the person it removes from humanity, but to humanity as a whole. Each of us plays a role in making sure that body remains in motion. So, when a person resorts to suicide, they are harming the body, the whole, they are depriving society and humanity. They are severing limbs or slicing our arms. They are robbing us of every good that they would bring.
Most European countries have closed their schools. According to UNESCO, 91% of children worldwide have been affected by school closures. A study from Bangladesh found that Bangladeshi children were suffering from higher rates of depression, anxiety, and sleeping disorder. In Italy and Spain, one study determined that 85% of parents have noticed negative changes in their children’s emotions and behaviors since the pandemic. In England, deaths by suicide among children increased shortly after the country’s first lockdown. In Holland, a study “found that young people reported a significant increase in severe anxiety and sleeping problems during the country’s lockdown period.” Numerous studies from China found that roughly a quarter of children were suffering from the same symptoms. In India, like many other countries, children are spending so much time in front of screens that experts fear it will lead to “psycho-social problems, like lower self-esteem.”
Meanwhile, in Sweden, where schools and childcare centers have remained open, the spread of Covid as a result of children attending school is practically nonexistent. Over the next few years, research will show us exactly how Sweden’s no-lockdown approach affected their youth.
The research concludes that children should remain in school.
Overwhelmingly — and I mean overwhelmingly — the research concludes that children should remain in school. Academic articles are known for their boring, long-winded, incomprehensible titles, but not these. Like this one: “Mitigate the effects of home confinement on children during the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Children need physical activity, which is crucial to minimizing depression and anxiety. Schools provide structure. Schools are a consistent source for children’s nutrition, and a lapse in nutrition can have psychological effects. Schools also provide healthcare.
School closures have also put children at a higher risk of domestic violence or sexual abuse, because “school is a safe space where children can report problems and where signs of abuse can be detected.”
Children need community. They need friends. While many adults are at home with their kids, most of us are working, and children left alone on workdays are more likely to have anxiety or depression.
According to the CDC, of every demographic, 18-24-year-olds have been most affected, with 75% of respondents in that age range reporting at least one negative mental health symptom. One-quarter said they were using more drugs and alcohol to cope with pandemic-related stress, and another one-quarter said they had “seriously considered suicide” in the previous 30 days.
No prom. No graduation. No church. No dates. No birthday parties — birthdays spent alone. No games. No homecoming. No extracurricular clubs. No sports. No Spring Break — no vacations at all. No funerals, although there are plenty of people being buried.
Teenagers in lockdown are more concerned about their more basic needs. They feel less connected to other people. They are learning less and spending less time on school work. In other words, they are hurting, and bad.
The number of studies that back this up is daunting.
Three papers (Here, Here, and Here) determined that older adolescents suffer more symptoms of depression than younger ones and children. Another study describes the “collective trauma” that the lockdowns have had on teenagers.
The National 4-H Council found that:
●81% of teens say mental health is a significant issue for young people in the U.S., and 64% of teens believe that the experience of COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on their generation’s mental health.
●7 in 10 teens have experienced struggles with mental health.
●55% of teens say they’ve experienced anxiety, 45% excessive stress, and 43% depression.
●61% of teens said that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased their feeling of loneliness.
●82% of teens calling on America to talk more openly and honestly about mental health issues in this country.
Life has always been hard for teenagers, but even before the pandemic, it has been especially rough on American teenagers, who are
Here’s how the conversation went on radio:
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: The politics of COVID-19 is DESTROYING our children
This content was originally published here.