Giving Compass’ Take:
• Carol Graham and Sergio Pinto, at Brookings, explain a new tool that analyzes the impact of well-being and COVID-19 on despair-related deaths.
• How can we take this time during quarantine to address despair-related deaths? What can you do to support those at a higher risk of despair-related deaths due to loss of income or work during coronavirus?
The pandemic is holding up a magnifying glass to our country’s deep inequities and challenges—including our crisis of deaths of despair.
The United States was already dealing with the hollowing out of low-skilled jobs, which has resulted in a rise of populism and a backlash against globalization in many of them. Those trends are more than evident here. They are compounded, most notably, by the deaths of despair: deaths due to drug, alcohol, and suicide that have taken 1 million lives since 1999 primarily among less than college-educated non-Hispanic whites.
We know from the extensive literature on well-being and unemployment that virtually everywhere the link has been studied, it has been found to have significant and persistent negative effects on well-being in excess of those predicted by income losses alone. Lack of employment and of the related life purpose and social connections is strongly associated with despair-related deaths.
We have built an interactive vulnerability indicator that shows the links between state-level trends in well-being and county-level trends in deaths of despair. Our indicator allows users to see how these accord with county- and state-level trends in poverty, unemployment, and average household income.
While objective health conditions such as diabetes, smoking, and cardiovascular disease are clearly linked to COVID-19 mortality, they tend to be at least in part behaviorally driven conditions, and we know that individuals with higher levels of well-being tend to suffer less from these conditions. But we simply do not know if well-being can play a mediating role in the links between COVID-19 incidence and mortality. We hope that the trends that our vulnerability indicator uncovers over time can inform this important question as we navigate difficult economic, health, and ill-being challenges in uncertain times.
Read the full article about COVID-19 and despair-related deaths by Carol Graham and Sergio Pinto at Brookings.
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