Coronavirus is not the only thing that could cause thousands of deaths this year.
Alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide could be responsible for 75,000 “deaths of despair” according to new studies.
There will be suggestions that more funding and resources need to go to stimulus funds and mental health counseling. For some, those can be the thing that makes the difference and helps them maintain their physical and meant health. But this strikes me as only a partial fix. Tens of millions of people have lost their jobs. Certainly, there is the financial stress and hardship of lost wages. Lost dreams. For some, lost businesses that reflect a lifetime of work. But there is also the existential angst and sense of a loss of purpose from not being able to work. There’s the isolation, especially for those who live alone or who are away from family.
There’s the anxiety and uncertainty of when life will return to normal. Media sensationalism doesn’t help. Politicians continually moving the goalposts also does not help. We were told we needed to shut down for two weeks. Then it was for the month of April. In many parts of the country, that was extended through the month of May. We hear that we need to find “a new normal,” as many of the things we love have been turned upside down.
Someone could argue “and that’s why we need more resourcing in counseling.” That’s all well and good, but many parts of the country already have shortages of counselors. Do we have the qualified manpower to support hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of new patients all entering needed therapy of counseling all at once?
There is no situation in which this virus is not incredibly costly. It will either be incredibly costly in terms of loss of life related to coronavirus. Or it will be costly in terms of economic impact. Or it will be costly in terms of health being impacted due to despair and misery. And really, there will be costs in all of those domains. The question that our society (and societies around the world) must answer is what we are willing to accept.
For those of us who think that the economy and states should be opening up more than they are, there’s a lot of demonization as if we’re all apathetic to loss of life. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. I mentioned how tens of thousands of Americans could die from deaths of despair. Tens of millions of people have lost jobs; we’ve already spent trillions on this virus and new bill proposals could tack trillions more onto the national debt. Making ourselves poorer as a society also has impacts on people’s health prospects. Globally, UNICEF is predicting increases in child mortality due to lockdowns. Experts are predicting dramatic increases in worldwide hunger (over a quarter of a billion people).
Incredible costs with this virus. I see so much vitriol and judgment on people who have protested, or gone out to restaurants, or gone to beaches. I hear them called “stupid,” or apathetic to loss of life. I see memes that talk about how other generations have gone to war and people are just being asked to stay in and watch Netflix (which mitigates the severity of the plight of people who have lost their livelihood). I think these overlook that a lot of people are simply at a place where they’re willing to take the risk. People will risk dying to live the life they want.
I think a lot of people have come to a place where they realize that we might not have a vaccine anytime soon and that society will eventually have to start rolling again and feel like we might as well start taking our chance so that we don’t destroy more lives for a disease which is not nearly as lethal as we thought it was when we were told we needed to shut down in the first place.
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Josh Benner is the pastor of Christian Bible Church in Cissna Park, Illinois. He has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He has an awesome wife named Kari.