TRENTON, N.J. – Concerned with a possible “silent scythe” of mental health issues adding to the terrible toll of the coronavirus pandemic, Assemblyman Kevin Rooney called on Gov. Phil Murphy to conduct a state-wide tabulation of those with existing mental health preconditions who have lost their lives or suffered setbacks due to the nearly four-month-long state shutdown.
He noted that Murphy and the Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli have not moved to quantify the problems and help key experts get data to provide better solutions despite acknowledging the added risk during the governor’s daily news briefings.
“I echo the governor’s comments from May when he expressed concern for the ‘toxic mix’ of impacts that the shutdown could have on the mental health of some of our most vulnerable residents,” said Rooney (R-Bergen). “However, unlike him, I believe it is also critical to find out all the facts about the deadly impact of the shutdown and not just muse about it with no follow-up.”
Murphy was asked during his daily coronavirus briefing in Trenton on May 9 if the state will track suicides and consider this when determining how to reopen the state.
“I don’t know specifics in terms of tracking suicides, but we have said this: The combination of isolation and now other factors like job losses are having big impacts on folks, there’s no question about it,” the governor said.
“But you add to that job loss, small businesses that have been crushed,” Murphy continued. “It’s a toxic mix.”
At the same briefing, Persichilli said the state was not tracking suicides related to the pandemic but that officials are “concerned about mental health issues.”.
“I find it disturbing that a medical professional such as Commissioner Persichilli would not seek to find as much critical data as possible to gain knowledge to help us understand the ramifications of a long-term shutdown which she has vociferously endorsed for months,” continued Rooney. “We need to track deaths by suicide and depression every bit as much as deaths from the coronavirus in order to have the required science to make informed decisions.”
Experts have predicted the long-term fall out from closing the economy, including the resulting high rates of unemployment, and forcing residents to stay home can lead to increased rates of suicide.
Research has shown suicide rates rise after economic recessions with economists wary of when and if jobs will return after the sharp labor market decline put 1.2 million New Jersey workers out of work.
Actual state and national totals may be higher, as the tally does not include workers who have not been able to file or who may not be eligible for unemployment benefits from the broken State Labor Department.
New Jersey is at special risk due to the length, breadth and depth of Gov. Murphy’s shutdown but the nation faces a stark horizon for Americans hit hard by the crisis.
A study by Well Being Trust found conditions from the pandemic, including fall out from lost jobs, isolation, and fear over the future, could lead to 75,000 deaths in the nation from drug or alcohol abuse and suicide over the next decade. Death estimates ranged from 27,644 if the economy recovers quickly, to 154,037 if recovery is slow.