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Trump Uses Suicide Prevention To Help Justify Reopening Economy — But That Argument Holds Little Weight

President Donald Trump is attempting to argue that the need to “reopen the economy” outweighs worries over coronavirus, and he’s using suicide prevention to do so.

However, his argument holds little weight upon further inspection.

The White House/Flickr

Trump has made the argument before, but on Thursday reiterated that continued social distancing measures could come with unforeseen problems, including the possibility that the economic downturn resulting from them could result in a decline in some people’s mental health.

“A prolonged lockdown combined with a forced economic depression would inflict an immense and wide-ranging toll on public health. This includes a sharp rise in drug abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide, heart disease, and many other dimensions of physical and mental wellbeing,” Trump said at the White House.

What Trump is suggesting here is that it’s better to reopen the economy because there will be less suicides if we do. But he seemingly forgets that coronavirus is a disease that has already killed tens of thousands of Americans in just a matter of weeks. Reopening the economy too soon will likely result in more infections, and more deaths, greater than the number who might potentially attempt suicide.

In 2017, there were more than 47,000 suicides for the entire year. Those deaths matter, and yes, if the economy remains shut down, it will likely result in a higher suicide rate this year. But we must keep in mind that, proportionally speaking, it seems that coronavirus is more deadly than suicide at the moment, since close to 35,000 have died of the disease in the U.S. in just a matter of weeks.

Trump’s insinuations also don’t take into account the fact that depression (and possibly suicide attempts from it) happen for a number of reasons. A person’s financial station isn’t the only factor — indeed, the death of a loved one can play a role, too, and thousands of deaths from coronavirus could arguably result in greater rates of suicide as well.

And let’s not forget: the economy was tanking long before coronavirus had taken American peoples’ lives. The economy won’t recover simply because we reopen it — coronavirus will still play a role in the markets, still affect consumer confidence. We’re heading for a recession, whether we open the economy or not.

Recessions, believe it or not, sometimes result in better outcomes for people’s lives, at least when it comes to health. This isn’t to say that a recession would be a good thing, but rather that it’s not a complete “doom and gloom” scenario that Trump makes it out to be. Richard Dunn, associate professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at University of Connecticut, explained to ABC News last month:

“The general fact that President Trump cited is, in fact, true that when economies contract suicides do go up, but that is not the only cause of death that responds to economic downturn…

If you were to look across all the current causes of death in a recession, you would see that the number of deaths actually declines. Heart deaths from heart disease fall. Deaths from motor vehicle accidents crashes fall…So we actually see overall that there are fewer deaths in economic downturn.”

Then there’s evidence that a better economy won’t necessarily mean suicide rates will slow. Indeed, from 2008 to 2011 during the great recession, the suicide rate increased by 6.21 percent. But from 2014 to 2017, while the economy was recovering, the suicide rate increased also, by 8.24 percent.

Suicide is a difficult subject to talk about. Compounded with the effects of coronavirus and how it’s ruining the economy, it’s even more complicated. But if we’re talking about what’s worse for Americans — suicide rates supposedly increasing from a bad economy, or a disease that has already taken the lives of 35,000 in this country — the choice, if we’re forced to make one, is obvious: social distancing should remain in place.

If Trump is serious about his concern over suicide, he should make more efforts, as president, to lessen the economic blow, and provide resources to help those who are struggling with their mental health.



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