The past two years have taught us a number of lessons. As more and more Americans found themselves locked out of public services and away from from the outside world, just as many have become aware of the decaying economic, psychological, and educational infrastructure that’s been kept under wraps for decades. Our prejudices and presuppositions have rendered us unfit and unable to weather a major global catastrophe. Strictly speaking, we were lucky: despite 1.02 million reported deaths due to COVID-19 between 2020 and 2022, the disease was relatively tame compared to previous global plagues, such as the Black Death or the Spanish flu. In 2019, over 2.8 million Americans died in total; given that the majority of COVID deaths were those who suffered from obesity, old age, or other underlying medical factors, we can safely say that the death totals were lower than they would have been if we were dealing with, say, a 21st-century version of the third plague virus.
Only in the past few months has there been any amount of attention paid to the psychological effects of COVID-19: the results of the lockdowns, the media coverage, the policy prescriptions. The economic effects are obvious – given the ongoing recession and stagflation, the skyrocketing food and gas prices. Less obvious are the psychological effects. Despite some correlating factors, despair isn’t always noticeable on the outside, especially when the entire population is locked down and isolated for two years; you don’t get a clear look at it until long after the event, when the body count is revealed.
Now, those numbers are starting to become available. According to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, there were between 171,000 to 243,000 excessive non-COVID deaths over the duration of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, across all age groups and all causes in the United States. The worst affected by these numbers were working age people between the ages 18-64, with a 26% increase of deaths for people between the ages of 18-44 from non-COVID causes.
This February, I spoke to two representatives from a local PR group in Franklin who claimed that suicide statistics in local county high schools were through the roof. The suggestion didn’t surprise me, given how sedentary and anxious I personally was during the lockdown and given how much emotional anguish it had enacted upon my friends.
I spent the next few months contacting local behavioral health and addiction clinics to see how much damage, exactly, had been done to Middle Tennesseeans’ mental health during the pandemic. What I was told didn’t surprise me. Suicidal ideation was on the rise, although actual incidents of suicides had decreased somewhat. According to the Behavioral Health Foundation in Nashville, 25.5% of young adults 18-24 seriously considering suicide within the past 20 days, in addition to 63% of that age group showing signs of serious anxiety and depression.
“The data is getting worse, not better,” said Elliot Pinsley, president of BHF. “COVID has had a tremendous impact on individuals in terms of mental health, well-being and addiction. We’ve seen very large spikes in mental health acuity, intensity of symptoms and prevalence of addiction and overdoses. It’s not even totally tied to COVID, it's continuing to spike. We’re not even close to being out of the dark. Suicide risk and ideation was way up after pandemic.”
As it turns out, being locked indoors and out of school for months on end harms the psyches and stunts the development of growing children. A child losing out on two years of education proves devastating, and there is now an entire generation of two-year-olds, 2020 babies, who have never seen the faces of strangers in public.
Don’t think the adults were spared. The pandemic caused massive rates of relapse into alcoholism, drug addiction and drug-related deaths. A report from the CDC earlier this year revealed a 28.5% increase in overdoses, and some of the sources I spoke to said they were seeing early indicators of increases as early as summer 2020.
The deaths were mostly from fentanyl. This is nothing new; deaths by fentanyl overdose have plagued the state of Tennessee for the past several years even as prescription opioids have become more inaccessible. BHF reported an increase from 3,000 total overdose deaths in Tennessee in 2020 to 3,700 in 2021. WKRN reported 712 overdose deaths (likely from fentanyl) last year in Nashville alone.
Chapman Sledge is the chief medical officer of Cumberland Heights, a rehab and addiction treatment center in Nashville. According to Sledge, “Early on, people stopped seeking treatment as readily but after that people were reticent to come into a residential setting. People were only coming in for treatment if they had absolutely no other options. But what we saw was that people who had never been treated by the clinic increased their substance use during the pandemic and went from being functional to being pretty dysfunctional. The other category was people who had recovered and suddenly lost their support. They were isolated and we saw relapses as a result.”
In other words, the pandemic made slightly dysfunctional adults unstable and made very unstable adults completely relapse into their previous addictions. It made developmentally arrested children anxious and hopeless. And that pervading atmosphere of despair must–at least, partially–explain the 26% increase in non-COVID deaths.
That our attempts to save the lives of COVID victims killed hundreds of thousands of people should be a shame against our collective humanity. That our policies caused many more to fall back into addiction and despair was a moral crime. It’s one thing for adult alcoholics to slip back into old habits; it’s another thing for teenagers to have suicidal thoughts/suicidal ideation. Americans are seeing this; in fact, they’ve seen it for two years, and it has resulted in deep antipathy toward the pro-mask, pro-vax and anti-school choice movements heralded by our “experts” as pro-science. Parents are learning that the public school and public health bureaucrats they trusted for so long may not be the best advocates for children’s health and safety.
The temptation to believe in technocracy, to claim all of society will be better once the smart people are in charge of decision making, should be laid bare. Groups like the World Economic Forum and their plan for a “Great Reset” are built on such temptations and it should be clear that their goals will be detrimental and costly.
As C.S. Lewis writes in The Abolition of Man, “Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be nature’s conquest of man. Every victory we seemed to win has led us, step by step, to this conclusion…. The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated by himself but by mere appetite, that is nature, in the person of his dehumanized conditioners.”
At the end of the day, our attempts to control reality, to control people always devolve into anti-human horrors. We tried to fix COVID-19 mechanically, and it conservatively cost us over 170,000 lives in the United States, at least.