We also know that tying deaths of despair directly to measures being used to reduce the spread of Covid-19 is, simply, wrong.
Deaths of despair are tragic and preventable. But they are not new. The label was first used in 2017 by two economists to describe the increase in U.S. deaths from suicide, overdose, and alcohol in the 2010s. Anne Case and Angus Deaton wrote that these deaths reflected rising hopelessness and inequity among American society. A series of investigations since have corroborated their findings. All three types of death have been on the increase among all Americans for the past decade, in parallel with a decadelong rise in hopelessness, inequity, and easy availability of lethal means. Where was the alarm from these politicians then?
We do not actually know that these deaths are increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Police and crisis hotlines may — or may not — be receiving extra calls for domestic violence and child abuse. Firearm homicide rates are staying steady. Suicides are certainly occurring, but there is no evidence to date that their rate is on the rise (and we may not know the impact of the pandemic on suicide for years to come). Despite ample evidence that anxiety is increasing during the pandemic, anxiety alone is rarely a driver for suicide. It is not even a risk factor for it.