Coronavirus

Trump Was Probably Wrong About Coronavirus and Suicides, But the Associated Press Botched Its Fact-Check

It wouldn't cause more deaths than COVID-19, but an economic crisis could indeed raise the suicide rate precipitously.

|

On Tuesday, President Trump warned that keeping the country under lockdown could drive people to recession-induced suicide and that the number of deaths "probably, and I mean, definitely, would be in far greater numbers than the numbers that we're talking about with regard to the virus."

To the extent Trump was suggesting that the economic costs of fighting the coronavirus are likely to produce more suicides than there would be deaths from the disease if the U.S. government did nothing, he's almost certainly wrong. There were about 50,000 suicides in the U.S. last year. Even if this number increased dramatically, it would be very difficult to match the estimated deaths of COVID-19, which are in the hundreds of thousands or even millions under worst-case, do-nothing projections. If aggressive countermeasures to limit the coronavirus' reduce the COVID-19 death toll to a bad flu season—the outcome many are hoping for—you would still have a problem at least as serious as the national suicide rate.

But while Trump likely exaggerated the trade-off here, the Associated Press—which published a fact-check of the president's remarks—went too far in the opposite direction: significantly understating the possibility that suicides would increase if prolonged social-distancing measures lead to a sustained economic downturn.

"There's no evidence that suicides will rise dramatically if nationwide social-distancing guidelines that have closed many businesses and are expected to trigger a spike in unemployment stay in place," wrote A.P., prefacing this remark with a "THE FACTS" heading.

This is technically true in that we have not been able to run this exact experiment in some sort of laboratory. But suicides do tend to rise during periods of economic turmoil. During the first year of the Great Depression, the U.S. suicide rate surged from about 14 per 100,000 people to 18 per 100,000. In 1932—the last full year of the depression—the suicide rate reached its all-time high of 22 per 100,000.

A.P. is aware of this fact, but bizarrely waves it away with this line: "The even higher suicide rate seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s fell sharply with the onset of World War II." That an even larger crisis saw declining suicide rates a full decade later is cold comfort. A.P. cites an expert who claims that "war and natural disaster" cause society to pull together and thus drive the suicide rate down, but a man-made crisis caused by deliberate government action to shut down the economy is neither a war nor a natural disaster.

Another fact-check of Trump's remarks on suicide, published by ABC News, was much more responsible with its claims:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide mortalities have gone up every year since 1999, but it's still "selective" for the president to latch onto that, says Richard Dunn, associate professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at University of Connecticut who has studied the connection between markets and depression.

"The general fact that President Trump cited is, in fact, true that when economies contract suicides do go up," Dunn said, acknowledging how the financial crisis of the early 2000s triggered more suicides, "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," Dunn added. "One of the few activities that we have left to us in many parts of the country is to go out for a walk, so physical activity tends to go up."

"So we actually see overall that there are fewer deaths in economic downturn—but suicide is the one major cause of death that does not follow that pattern," Dunn said.

It's one thing to say that Trump exaggerated the likely impact on the suicide rate. It's quite another to say the impact is something we would have no reason to consider at all.

NEXT: FDA Tells At-Home Diagnostics Companies To Stop Coronavirus Test Roll-Outs

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

        1. Yikes!
          NTTIAWWT

  1. Trump might have exaggerated the number of financial-inspired suicides, but mass unemployment will cause a lot of deaths. If half the country is unemployed, that means half the products are being made and distributed, and it won’t be limited to teddy bears and celebrities.

    1. I have made $16498 in one month by working at home. When I lost my office job 3 month ago, I was very upset and an unsuccessful try for a job hunt I was found this online job. and now I am able to earn thousands at home easily. Everybody can do this and earn money so easy.… More Read Here

  2. What about all the other deaths of despair? Everybody knows overdoses will skyrocket over the next few years. Domestic violence deaths etc…

    Even cancer deaths will go up:
    https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/economic-downturn-excess-cancer-deaths-atun/

    I’d be willing to wager that we will see life expectancy take a marked drop going forward. Economic devastation has consequences.

  3. In 1932—the last full year of the depression—!!?? Fact check: Change that 3 to a 4.

  4. I tend to err on the side of caution, I don’t like risk, and with this virus I’d rather be safe than sorry.

    But when this is all over, if the risks with this virus was overplayed and the economy devastated, the media and transnational elite will find themselves facing a potentially bloody revolution.

    1. Let’s hope not. The revolution should be based on the decisions made at the time based on the information at the time, not in retrospect after we have more information. Besides, we won’t know ALL relevant information even when this is all over. If this virus turns out to be a big nothing burger the argument can, and will, be made that mankind was spared an ignominious end only because we devastated the economy.

    2. I think that’s exactly what is going to happen. It was clear early on that this virus wasn’t worth the response (not to mention that lock downs have never been part of a response to virus containment).

      What is worse isn’t just the look back, its the next time it happens. The experts and the media will have lost credibility, and if the next one is actual worse and worth a huge response, people won’t listen. They will believe the experts and the media is wrong.

  5. “it would be very difficult to match the estimated deaths of COVID-19, which are in the hundreds of thousands or even millions under worst-case, do-nothing projections. ”

    Worthless projections based on terrible models. Why are we repeating these? We are nowhere near on a trajectory to hit tens of thousands let alone hundreds of thousands or millions.

    The models have been very bad at predictions already, forecasting a order of magnitude greater spread.

    https://thefederalist.com/2020/03/25/inaccurate-virus-models-are-panicking-officials-into-ill-advised-lockdowns/

    1. “Worthless projections based on terrible models informed by useless unreliable data.”

      1. Your assumption is based on the models being built off of data and not assumptive theory. My guess is the latter.

  6. Robby, I firmly believe that if this social distancing and associated diktats go on for as long as, and as sweeping as, desired by the likes of Governor Cuomo – the worst case scenario – there will millions of economic-related suicides. There, see how easy it is to set up any far-reaching scenario and argue against it?

  7. Worse than the suicides will be the stress-induced heart attacks and strokes.

  8. It should pretty well go without saying that there is a human health cost to economic decline.

    And its pretty senseless to try and weigh the costs to health of the economy and the cost to health of the virus, because those costs cant be measured with any degree of precision.

    This crisis is almost entirely up to individuals to solve. The government will get in the way no doubt. The outcome just depends on what degree that is.

  9. > It’s quite another to say the impact is something we would have no reason to consider at all.

    And something entirely else to manufacture distractions for Dolt 45’s historically stupid handling. But hey, hate-the-press sells, so who the fuck cares, right?

    1. “Historically stupid handling”. Yet, I’ve researched your past comments and you never offered a suggestion of what Dolt 45 should have done differently. And proved those suggestions would be resulted in more beneficial outcomes.

      1. “Orange Man Bad”, don’t you know.

  10. Never fear, libertarians dear!
    Shitsy Shitler will soon be here!
    Shitsy Shitler’s solution = the final solution!
    Suicides all around, for all who disagree with Shitler!
    Economy, schneconomy, machs nix! Suicides all around!
    The spirit of Jimmy Jones lives on! Heil Shitler!

    1. That was stupid even for you.

      1. Do you recall the awesome enchanter named “Tim”, in “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail”? The one who could “summon fire without flint or tinder”? Well, you remind me of Tim… You are an enchanter who can summon persuasion without facts or logic!

        So I discussed your awesome talents with some dear personal friends on the Reason staff… Accordingly…

        Reason staff has asked me to convey the following message to you:

        Hi Fantastically Talented Author:

        Obviously, you are a silver-tongued orator, and you also know how to translate your spectacular talents to the written word! We at Reason have need for writers like you, who have near-magical persuasive powers, without having to write at great, tedious length, or resorting to boring facts and citations.

        At Reason, we pay above-market-band salaries to permanent staff, or above-market-band per-word-based fees to freelancers, at your choice. To both permanent staff, and to free-lancers, we provide excellent health, dental, and vision benefits. We also provide FREE unlimited access to nubile young groupies, although we do firmly stipulate that persuasion, not coercion, MUST be applied when taking advantage of said nubile young groupies.

        Please send your resume, and another sample of your writings, along with your salary or fee demands, to ReasonNeedsBrilliantlyPersuasiveWriters@Reason.com .

        Thank You! -Reason Staff

        1. As usual your ‘Tim’ and ‘Reason Author’ copypasta don’t even apply here. You couldn’t even bother to find something relevant to copy and paste.
          You’re one of the laziest sociopaths ever.

          1. “You couldn’t even bother to find something relevant to copy and paste.”

            Shitsy Shitler regularly shows up here to tell people to commit suicide, and the article heavily mentions suicide. Can you put two and two together?

            On the copy-paste, I am tired of people… Like YOU! Who pollute the chat board with stupid, inane, vain, worthless, non-funny, moronic insults… Who think THEIR stupid shit is SOOOO important, that it should be shared with ALL readers! Morons whose best efforts could be created by third-grade schoolyard bullies, and here is an example!

            “That was stupid even for you.”

            Of what merit is the above comment? Funny? Informative? Persuasive, of ANYTHING, other than the “fact” that you are a Brilliant Wonder of the World, and I am… Wait for it… “Stupid!” LOL, what stupendously delightful humor!

            1. Exhibit A.
              I rest my case.

              1. “That was stupid even for you.”

                Yes, rest your brain-case! It is sorely in need of arrest, for arrested development!

      2. That’s pretty harsh. Even for him? I’m not convinced.

    2. Actually I only want a few of you retards to off yourselves. You’re near the top of the list. Along with Kiddie Raper.

      When am I to expect a rent demand for the space I take up in that pea brain of yours?

  11. Something neither Trump, nor the AP, nor Robby addressed: people won’t just die of suicide. When you put the entire country in prison, expect prison riots.

  12. I call this the Dr. Zeke Emanuel Virus. Because he wants everyone to live no longer than 75 years. Including himself (so egalitarian).

    It’s as if God granted Dr. Zeke’s wish.

  13. “To the extent Trump was suggesting that the economic costs of fighting the coronavirus are likely to produce more suicides than there would be deaths from the disease if the U.S. government did nothing, he’s almost certainly wrong.”

    But what if the government did something without resorting to shutting down the economy with mass quarantines?

  14. How do you possibly think we would have hundreds of thousands, let alone millions of deaths? There have been less than 4000 in all of China. In Italy, which was hit hardest (and whose numbers I trust more), it’s about 7000. Even if you extrapolated that to the proportion size of the United States, it would still be nowhere near millions, not even hundreds of thousands.

  15. Suicides are not the only source of incremental deaths. Missing from the analysis above are all the people who are dependent on services and contacts that are currently shut down – people who are living on the edge in the best of times. Also missing are those who go into financial distress and defer needed medical care. Also add in those who die injured and alone who could have been saved but for the lack of their regular caregivers and family members who are staying away to protect their elderly loved ones. And what about the people who will die because of police overreactions enforcing, for example, curfews? There are many, many sources of incremental deaths being driven by these policies. Suicides are likely the minor component.

    1. Good points, agreed! Kudos!

      (It is well documented that statistically, wealth saves, and poverty kills. The WAY excessive love of money (greed) may be bad, but money, property, in it’s proper place, is life-enabling. Wealthier people live longer!)

  16. Trump was actually right, and the AP was wrong.

    HEADLINE: Suicide hotline calls soar as coronavirus spreads. ‘There is a flood coming’

    https://www.tri-cityherald.com/news/coronavirus/article241493126.html

  17. Yep, the odds of Trumpy being wrong are always pretty good.

    Trump is America’s broken clock. Don’t ignore the 1338 minutes a day of Trump being wildly wrong to cheer for the 2 he is almost right.

Please to post comments