by Bill Swinford

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. A recent survey by the Cleveland Clinic found “37% of respondents ranked their mental health as average or low…Additionally, in the last week alone, 45% of respondents grappled with anxiety, 36% dealt with sadness or depression, and 34% dealt with anger.” 

On May 10 and 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released reports on two manifestations of these continuing challenges to mental wellness in the U.S. exacerbated by the pandemic and impacting every state and region.

On May 10, the CDC reported, “The overall firearm suicide rate remained nearly level between 2019 and 2020, with age-specific rate increases among persons 10 – 44 years old, partially offset by a decrease among those 45 – 64 years old.” According to the report, “Overall, rates were highest at the highest poverty level and lowest at the lowest poverty level.” Approximately 53% of deaths by suicide in the U.S. involve a firearm. While the report does not specify firearm suicide rates by state, overall firearm deaths increased in every region of the U.S. The report does not reach conclusion about the causes of the increase, but notes the “…increased stressors (e.g., economic, social, and psychological) and disruptions in health, social, and emergency services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In addition to the impact of human life and their communities, the CDC reports “…in 2019, suicide and nonfatal self-harm cost the nation nearly $490 billion in medical costs, work loss costs, value of statistical life, and quality of life costs.” 

The CDC provides a number of resources for policymakers as they explore approaches to reducing death by suicide. 

On May 11, the CDC reported “…there were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 2021, an increase of nearly 15% from the 93,655 deaths estimated in 2020.” Every state except Hawaii and Wyoming experienced an increase, with many states experiencing increases of more than 20%. Overdose is among the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. According to the Recovery Research Institute, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the opioid overdose crisis. As researchers seek to document and explain this impact, theoretical reasons given for increased public health harms include a more dangerous drug supply, disruption of treatment and recovery support services, social isolation, and increased levels of social and economic stress.”

study in 2017 found “The economic cost of the U.S. opioid epidemic in 2017 was estimated at $1,021 billion, including cost of opioid use disorder estimated at $471 billion and cost of fatal opioid overdose estimated at $550 billion.” The report includes a breakdown of costs per capita per state.

The CDC makes available to policymakers a series of resources for combatting the overdose epidemic.

Resource for state leaders to share for those who need help or know someone who does, include:

  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
  • Use the online Lifeline Chat

Both are free and confidential. Callers will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in their area.

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