Mr. Trump is right to be concerned about the trend of increased suicides during recessions, said Aaron Reeves, a professor and sociologist at Oxford University and the lead author of a 2012 study that estimated an excess of 4,750 suicides in the United States after 2007, coinciding with the recession. But in a scenario in which workplaces and businesses reopen and social distancing is more limited but people continue to wash their hands, Mr. Reeves said, “my sense is that this virus would almost certainly kill more people under those conditions than suicides would.”
Moreover, it is not inevitable that a recession would lead to excess suicides. In countries and American states with adequate social programs in place, the impact of economic downturns can be reduced.
“There are some choices that governments have about how you potentially offset the consequences of recessions that may come,” Mr. Reeves said, pointing to the $2 trillion economic package passed by the Senate. “Trump could put in place more to protect those people if he’s worried about suicides.”
Experts also warned that the argument about whether to stave off a recession or contain the coronavirus was a somewhat false choice. If efforts to mitigate the coronavirus abate and cases and deaths spiral out of control, the economy would also be affected by self-imposed lockdowns.