Special Report: How the COVID-19 lockdown will take its own toll on health

By M.B. Pell and Benjamin Lesser

NEW YORK (Reuters) – It’s the most dramatic government intervention into our lives since World War II. To fight the coronavirus outbreak, governments across the globe have closed schools, travel and businesses big and small. Many observers have fretted about the economic costs of throwing millions of people out of work and millions of students out of school.

Now, three weeks after the United States and other countries took sweeping suppression steps that could last months or more, some public health specialists are exploring a different consequence of the mass shutdown: the thousands of deaths likely to arise unrelated to the disease itself.

The longer the suppression lasts, history shows, the worse such outcomes will be. A surge of unemployment in 1982 cut the life spans of Americans by a collective two to three million years, researchers found. During the last recession, from 2007-2009, the bleak job market helped spike suicide rates in the United States and Europe, claiming the lives of 10,000 more people than prior to the downturn. This time, such effects could be even deeper in the weeks, months and years ahead if, as many business and political leaders are warning, the economy crashes and unemployment skyrockets to historic levels.

Already, there are reports that isolation measures are triggering more domestic violence in some areas. Prolonged school closings are preventing special needs children from receiving treatment and could presage a rise in dropouts and delinquency. Public health centers will lose funding, causing a decline in their services and the health of their communities. A surge in unemployment to 20% – a forecast now common in Western economies – could cause an additional 20,000 suicides in Europe and the United States among those out of work or entering a near-empty job market.

None of this is to downplay the chilling death toll COVID-19 threatens, or to suggest governments shouldn’t aggressively respond to the crisis.

A recent report by researchers from Imperial College London helped set the global lockdown in motion, contending that coronavirus could kill 2 million Americans and 500,000 people in Great Britain unless governments rapidly deployed severe social distancing measures. To truly work, the report said, the suppression effort would need to last, perhaps in an on-again, off-again fashion, for up to 18 months.

In the United States, the White House this week said the final toll could rise to 240,000 dead. States have responded to the dire warnings, and the escalating number of cases revealed each day, by extending stay-at-home shutdowns.

The medical battle against COVID-19 is developing so rapidly that no one knows how it will play out or what the final casualty count will be. But researchers say history shows that responses to a deep and long economic shock, coupled with social distancing, will trigger health impacts of their own, over the short, mid and long term.

Here is a look at some.

SHORT TERM CONSEQUENCES

Domestic Violence

Trapped at home with their abusers, some domestic violence victims are already experiencing more frequent and extreme violence, said Katie Ray-Jones, the chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Domestic violence programs across the country have cited increases in calls for help, news accounts reported – from Cincinnati to Nashville, Portland, Salt Lake City and statewide in Virginia and Arizona. The YWCA of Northern New Jersey, in another example, told Reuters its domestic violence calls have risen up to 24%.

“There are special populations that are going to have impacts that go way beyond COVID-19,” said Ray-Jones, citing domestic violence victims as one.

Vulnerable Students

Students, parents and teachers all face challenges adjusting to remote learning, as schools nationwide have been closed and online learning has begun.

Some experts are concerned that students at home, especially those living in unstable environments or poverty, will miss more assignments. High school students who miss at least three days a month are seven times more likely to drop out before graduating and, as a result, live nine years less than their peers, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report.

Among the most vulnerable: the more than 6 million special education students across the United States. Without rigorous schooling and therapy, these students face a lifetime of challenges.

Special needs students “benefit the most from highly structured and customized special education,” said Sharon Vaughn, executive director of the The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas. “This means that they are the group that are most likely to be significantly impacted by not attending school both in the short and long term.”

In New Jersey, Matawan’s Megan Gutierrez has been overwhelmed with teaching and therapy duties for her two nonverbal autistic sons, eight and 10. She’s worried the boys, who normally work with a team of therapists and teachers, will regress. “For me, keeping those communications skills is huge, because if they don’t, that can lead to behavioral issues where they get frustrated because they can’t communicate,” Gutierrez said.

MEDIUM TERM CONSEQUENCES

Soaring Suicides

In Europe and the United States, suicide rates rise about 1% for every one percentage point increase in unemployment, according to research published by lead author Aaron Reeves from Oxford University. During the last recession, when the unemployment in the United States peaked at 10%, the suicide rate jumped, resulting in 4,750 more deaths. If the unemployment rate increases to 20%, the toll could well rise.

“Sadly, I think there is a good chance we could see twice as many suicides over the next 24 months than we saw during the early part of the last recession,” Reeves told Reuters. That would be about 20,000 additional dead by suicide in the United States and Europe.

Less than three weeks after extreme suppression measures began in the United States, unemployment claims rose by nearly 10 million. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned the rate could reach 20% and Federal Reserve economists predicted as high as 32%. Europe faces similarly dire forecasts.

Some researchers caution that suicide rates might not spike so high. The conventional wisdom is that more people will kill themselves amid skyrocketing unemployment, but communities could rally around a national effort to defeat COVID-19 and the rates may not rise, said Anne Case, who researches health economics at Princeton University. “Suicide is hard to predict even in the absence of a crisis of Biblical proportions,” Case said.

This week, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, relaxed its strict social isolation policies after the apparent suicides of two cadet seniors in late March, The Gazette, a Colorado Springs newspaper, reported. While juniors, sophomores and freshmen had been sent home, the college seniors were kept isolated in dorms, and some had complained of a prison-like setting. Now, the seniors will be able to leave campus for drive-thru food and congregate in small groups per state guidelines.

Public Health Crippled

Local health departments run programs that treat chronic diseases such as diabetes. They also help prevent childhood lead poisoning and stem the spread of the flu, tuberculosis and rabies. A severe loss of property and sales tax revenue following a wave of business failures will likely cripple these health departments, said Adriane Casalotti, chief of government affairs with the National Association of County and City Health Officials, a nonprofit focused on public health.

After the 2008 recession, local health departments in the U.S. lost 23,000 positions as more than half experienced budget cuts. While it’s become popular to warn against placing economic concerns over health, Casalotti said that, on the front lines of public health, the two are inexorably linked. “What are you going to do when you have no tax base to pull from?” she asked.

Carol Moehrle, director of a public health department that serves five counties in northern Idaho, said her office lost about 40 of its 90 employees amid the last recession. The department had to cut a family planning program that provided birth control to women below the poverty line and a program that tested for and treated sexually transmitted diseases. She worries a depression will cause more harm.

“I honestly don’t think we could be much leaner and still be viable, which is a scary thing to think about,” Moehrle said.

LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES

Job-loss Mortality

Rises in unemployment during large recessions can set in motion a domino effect of reduced income, additional stress and unhealthy lifestyles. Those setbacks in income and health often mean people die earlier, said Till von Wachter, a University of California Los Angeles professor who researches the impact of job loss. Von Wachter said his research of past surges in unemployment suggests displaced workers could lose, on average, a year and a half of lifespan. If the jobless rate rises to 20%, this could translate into 48 million years of lost human life.

Von Wachter cites measures he believes could mitigate the effects of unemployment. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act approved by the White House last week includes emergency loans to businesses and a short-time compensation program that could encourage employers to keep employees on the payroll.

Young People Suffer

Young adults entering the job market during the coronavirus suppression may pay an especially high price over the long term.

First-time job hunters seeking work during periods of high unemployment live shorter and unhealthier lives, research shows. An extended freeze of the economy could shorten the lifespan of 6.4 million Americans entering the job market by an average of about two years, said Hannes Schwandt, a health economics researcher at Northwestern University, who conducted the study with von Wachter. This would be 12.8 million years of life lost.

Thousands of college graduates will enter a job market at a time global business is frozen. Jason Gustave, a senior at William Paterson University in New Jersey who will be the first in his family to graduate from college, had a job in physical therapy lined up. Now his licensure exam is postponed and the earliest he could start work is September.

“It all depends on where the economy goes,” he said. “Is there a position still available?”

WHAT COMES NEXT

In the weeks ahead, a clearer picture of the disease’s devastation will come into focus, and governments and health specialists will base their fatality estimates on a stronger factual grounding.

As they do, some public health experts say, the government should weigh the costs of the suppression measures taken and consider recalibrating, if necessary.

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who researches health policy at Stanford University, said he worries governments worldwide have not yet fully considered the long term health impacts of the impending economic calamity. The coronavirus can kill, he said, but a global depression will, as well. Bhattacharya is among those urging government leaders to carefully consider the complete shutdown of businesses and schools.

“Depressions are deadly for people, poor people especially,” he said.

(Reporting in New York by M.B. Pell and Benjamin Lesser. Data editing by Janet Roberts. Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Stress? Fear of COVID-19? Therapists treating the vulnerable go online to help

By Menna A. Farouk

CAIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As the spread of coronavirus grows so too has people’s stress levels and anxieties, prompting businesses for good around the world to turn to technology to help the most vulnerable cope with mental health issues.

In Egypt, online therapy social enterprise Shezlong has offered 150,000 free sessions to help people cope with anxiety or depression or those suffering from “pseudo coronavirus” where people are convinced they have COVID-19 although they do not.

Hard Feelings, a Canadian social enterprise that aims to make therapy more accessible by offering low-cost counselling sessions, has closed its Toronto store and its counsellors will be speaking to clients online.

In Britain, a group of qualified therapists have set up a volunteering scheme called the Help Hub, offering free 20-minute Skype, FaceTime or telephone calls to vulnerable people in need of mental health support.

Meanwhile in the United States, online therapy platform Talkspace, a company with more than one million users, is donating a free month of therapy to 1,000 healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

“With negative news coming from media outlets about coronavirus, people are getting more stressed and panicked and more and more people will need psychological support,” Shezlong founder Ahmed Abu ElHaz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

About 1,500 free sessions have been given since the three-month initiative launched in March in Egypt, which has more than 400 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 20 deaths, according to data from the Johns Hopkins coronavirus resource center.

Conducted via video conference, the sessions offer coping techniques for dealing with bad news, in a country where 3% of the population – or 8.2 million – suffer from anxiety and mood disorders, according to 2018 Egyptian health ministry data.

“We use cognitive behavioural therapy which teaches patients how to manage stress and anxiety and gives relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and positive self-talk,” said Mohamed el-Shami, a therapist working for Shezlong.

Professor of Psychology at Cairo University Gamal Freusar said 70% of Egyptians were now classified as “pseudo coronavirus” as they assume they have the virus and think they have the symptoms although they actually do not.

“About two-thirds of Egyptian society is now having high levels of anxiety and tension and this may cause many physical problems for them,” he said.

U.S. online therapy platform Talkspace said it was donating free therapy to healthcare workers.

“The mental health of our social workers, nurses, doctors and other health personnel is now paramount,” Talkspace CEO Oren Frank said in a statement.

(Reporting by Menna A. Farouk in Cairo, Additional reporting by Sarah Shearman in London, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Tropical storm Gordon weakens after killing child

Storm clouds loom over a pier as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches in Waveland, Mississippi, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Gordon weakened into a depression on Wednesday hours after making landfall just west of the Alabama-Mississippi border and killing one person in Florida, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The storm, which caused only minor damage, was about 25 miles (40 km) south-southeast of Jackson, Mississippi and packed winds of 35 miles per hour. It will likely move across the lower Mississippi Valley through the day, bringing heavy rain and flooding, the NHC added.

An unidentified child was killed on Tuesday when a tree fell on a mobile home in Pensacola, Florida, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.

A slab where a house once stood is seen as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches Waveland, Mississippi, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

A slab where a house once stood is seen as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches Waveland, Mississippi, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Flash flood warnings and watches were in effect for inland areas while all coastal watches and warnings associated with Gordon were discontinued at this time, the NHC said.

Separately, the NHC on Wednesday named storm Florence, which was about 1,350 miles (2,170 km) east-southeast of Bermuda, as the first major hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. It has winds 105 miles per hour (165 km/h) and was moving northwest at 13 miles per hour.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency lifted evacuation orders and curfews for south Mississippi residents on Wednesday, said Ray Coleman, spokesman for the agency.

“We have no real damage reports, a couple of trees down, but no real major damages in the lower Mississippi Gulf Coast counties,” Coleman said.

Moderate to heavy flooding could be seen on roadways on Dauphin Island, Alabama and in Jackson, Mississippi, along with a few toppled trees, according to video reports by WKRG and WRAL news stations.

The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had declared this week a state of emergency in anticipation of the storm while companies cut 9 percent of U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production.

U.S. oil producer Anadarko Petroleum Corp evacuated workers and shut production at two offshore platforms on Monday, and other companies with production and refining operations along the Gulf Coast said they were securing facilities.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 17 percent of U.S. crude oil and 5 percent of natural gas output daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Last year, hurricanes hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, causing widespread destruction and thousands of deaths.

(Reporting by Kathy Finn, Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by David Stamp and Steve Orlofsky)

Apple should address youth phone addiction, say two large investors

Customers arrive to purchase an iPhone X at an Apple store in New York, U.S., November 3, 2017.

By Elizabeth Dilts

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Apple Inc shareholders Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System are urging the smartphone maker to take steps to address what they say is a growing problem of young people getting addicted to Apple’s iPhones, Jana partner Charles Penner said.

Jana, a leading activist shareholder, and CalSTRS, one of the nation’s largest public pension plans, delivered a letter to Apple on Saturday asking the company to consider developing software that would allow parents to limit children’s phone use, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Sunday.

Jana and CalSTRS also asked Apple to study the impact of excessive phone use on mental health, according to the publication.

CalSTRS and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Jana and CalSTRS together control about $2 billion worth of Apple shares, the Journal reports.

The social rights issue is a new turn for Jana, which is known for pushing companies it invests in to make financial changes.

However, the issue of phone addiction among young people has become a growing concern in the United States as parents report their children cannot give up their phones. CalSTRS and Jana worry that Apple’s reputation and stock could be hurt if it does not address those concerns, according to the Journal.

Half of teenagers in the United States feel like they are addicted to their mobile phones and report feeling pressure to immediately respond to phone messages, according to a 2016 survey of children and their parents by Common Sense Media.

The phone addiction issue got a high-profile boost from the former Disney child star Selena Gomez, 24, who said she canceled a 2016 world tour to go to therapy for depression and low self-esteem, feelings she linked to her addiction to social media and the mobile photo-sharing app Instagram.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Chicago police department struggles with officer suicide

Ark Maciaszek poses with a photo of his cousin, former Chicago police officer and suicide victim Scott Tracz, at his home in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. May 2, 2017. Picture taken May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Rookie Chicago police officer Scott Tracz sat in a black sports car outside his girlfriend’s suburban house late last year, put his gun to his head and fatally shot himself.

The normally upbeat Tracz, 30, had become withdrawn and sullen, struggling with the violence he witnessed as an officer but rejecting advice from friends and family to seek help, fearing it would end his career, relatives said.

“He said, ‘I will lose my job,'” his cousin, Ark Maciaszek, said. “Just like that.”

Tracz is believed to be the latest contributor to the Chicago Police Department’s suicide rate, which stands 60 percent higher than the national average according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice report.

Critics say the problem has been exacerbated by a lack of mental health resources. Chicago officials said they are working to improve their mental health services.

The pressure on Chicago’s police officers has intensified as the city has dealt with a surge in murders and increased scrutiny around tactics following the 2015 release of video showing the shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white officer.

In 2016, the number of murders in the city jumped nearly 60 percent to over 760, more than New York and Los Angeles combined. There were more than 4,300 shooting victims in the city last year, according to police.

The McDonald video sparked outrage and thrust Chicago into the nationwide debate over police use of force. The subsequent Justice Department report in January found Chicago police routinely violated civil rights, and also cited suicide as a “significant problem” for the city’s officers.

“Chicago is a war zone,” said Alexa James, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Chicago. “They (officers) are seeing the worst day of everybody’s life every day.”

Chicago police’s suicide rate was 29.4 per 100,000 department members between 2013 and 2015, the report said, citing police union figures. The department disagreed in the report, putting the rate at 22.7 suicides per 100,000 members. Both estimates were higher than the national average of 18.1 law enforcement suicides per 100,000.

RELUCTANT TO SEEK HELP

While each case contributing to Chicago’s suicide rate is different, interviews with mental health professionals and legal experts, as well as current and former officers, reveal deep-rooted stigma for those seeking help from its Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Some officers believe that seeking counseling will result in the loss of their Firearm Owner Identification Card, a requirement to carry a firearm under state law, according to current and former officers, as well as health officials. That view is mistaken, say Justice Department officials.

Still, “If someone thinks I have talked to EAP they think I’m unstable, so I’m not going to call,” said one veteran officer, who asked not to be identified.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in February the department’s past approach to mental health was wrong. In a report issued in March, the department said it would review mental wellness support services.

“Law enforcement historically has been seen as a very macho profession,” Johnson said at a public forum about police reform. “To say you needed help was seen as a sign of weakness and we were wrong for looking at it that way, we were simply wrong.”

Tracz had long dreamed of becoming a police officer to help others. But working in the violence-stricken Chicago Lawn district, he came face to face with the city’s violent crime. The area accounted for 58 of the city’s more than 760 murders last year, as well as 228 shootings.

“He would say, ‘You can never imagine what the human race is capable of doing,’ then he would just put his head down,” said his cousin Maciaszek, 46. Tracz’s relationship with his long-time girlfriend also grew strained as he became more irritable and angry, Maciaszek said.

Even if officers like Tracz had sought help they would have found the department’s resources strained. Three clinicians serve roughly 12,500 sworn officers and also their families, providing nearly 7,500 consultations in 2015, the Department of Justice said in its report.

The program is hiring another psychologist, as well as another drug and alcohol counselor, Robert Sobo, the department director of counseling services, said in an interview. In addition, the unit has four officers who serve as substance abuse counselors and a peer support network, he said.

But this would still leave the department lagging other major police cities of similar size. For example, Los Angeles Police has 14 trained psychologists and plans to hire two more for fewer than 10,000 sworn officers.

“Suicide is killing officers, alcohol is killing officers, at a far greater rate than ambushes, but there is not the same sense of urgency around this issue,” said Christy Lopez, a former Justice Department official who led the Chicago federal probe.

(Editing by Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis)

Deception Leads to Depression

You know, it’s fairly easy to follow the “deception leads to depression” truth. There are many false teachings that have lead people astray and when they find out that what they have been taught just DOES NOT WORK, they are devastated.

Take, for example, the false prosperity teachings. Jim calls them “love of money” teachings. Most of these are based on a formula of sowing and reaping, e.g. sowing money equals reaping money. But this teaching has been taken so out of context and when people eventually find out that their giving should not be tied to monetary gain, they are often angry at first, and then depressed. Why? Because they have been schooled in the teaching that if they give money, they will reap money…. And not just what they have sowed, but a 30, 60 or 100 fold return! Do you think there’s a little greed in there!? Continue reading

Abortion can lead to depression, guilt, drug abuse, suicide: top Mexican newspaper

“Sadness, depression, fear of sterility, guilt,” drug abuse and suicide are just some of the effects suffered by women who have abortions in Mexico City, according to the country’s most eminent newspaper, El Universal. The newspaper ran an article openly acknowledging the psychological trauma associated with abortion on January 21. Continue reading

The Answer to Depression

One of the words the Lord gave to Jim for 2012 is “depression.”  There are so many people depressed in today’s world and the world doesn’t have the answers, only God does.  When you look at the way the world is going, it’s hard not to be depressed.  The economy is in turmoil, the governments of the world are fighting each other, everywhere you turn there is confusion… just like Jim says.

People run to and fro trying to get relief from depression.  They run to doctors (and sometimes doctors can help), they run to psychiatrists (some of those can help as well), and then  sometimes people run to anything else that will give even temporary relief like sex, drugs or partying.  The trouble with the latter is that it just compounds the problem of depression.

So, what are we to do about depression?  How are we, as Christians, supposed to deal with it when we are attacked in our minds with depressive thoughts?

Depression is a complicated issue with many root causes. I’m not going to try to deal with all of the reasons people may feel depressed because there is a wide range of issues that may contribute.  But, instead, I’m going to share with you what worked for me and many others.

There is one sure way to lessen, or completely get rid of depression that is so simple, it’s hard to receive.  Depressive issues often focus internally:  what are they saying about ME, why did this happen to ME, how will this affect ME, when am I ever going to be happy, when will I ever be loved like I want to be loved, how can I pay my bills… ME, ME, ME, I, I, I!

Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.  When you give to others, you often find your focus is taken off of you and your problems, and your healing begins.

You want to get rid of depression?  Try finding someone to HELP!  Try giving away what YOU need!  Lend a hand, give a hug, encourage someone!  Volunteer at your church, babysit for someone, read the Bible to someone who can’t read or can’t see… FIND SOMEONE TO HELP!

As you get out of yourself and reach out to help others, your depression will ease and you will begin to understand a great mystery – that it is more blessed to give than to receive!