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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

Charting The Mental Health Effects Of The Coronavirus Pandemic


From lockdowns to unemployment to reopening, the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute is taking a deep dive into how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect mental health.

KERA's Justin Martin talked about the institute's research with its president and CEO Andy Keller.


The Goal Of The Project

Well, we focused on the research where there's the clearest link. So we wanted to get something out quickly because we knew that there was going to be a lot of bad impact.

I think a lot of people knew that and we wanted to get something specific.

So the clearest research that's out there that we're aware of is between unemployment rates and increases in unemployment with depression and with death from suicide as well as addiction and deaths from overdoses. So those are the areas we focused on in this initial report. 

'Diseases Of Despair':

Well, I think the key is despair and I think that a lot of things are conspiring right now to make us all to test our hope. And, you know, many of us are going to be tested in a way that makes us more resilient — we're going to have the supports we need, but some of us are biologically more susceptible to addiction, to depression, to reactivity.

Some of us have had past traumas in our life that lower our resilience. Not all trauma does that, but sometimes trauma can have that effect, and then not all of us have the same resources. Some of live in poverty, we live at a margin. And so a loss of a job can tip us into a much worse place. And so all of those factors conspire and then the diseases associated with that despair tend to be depression and addiction and then some of the worst outcomes.

So there's many bad outcomes of depression and addiction, but some of the worst outcomes are mortality outcomes and one of the things too, I think, that's so upsetting about these outcomes is these are preventable outcomes in the vast majority of cases.

These are diseases we know how to treat. And frankly, we weren't doing a very good job treating before the pandemic. 

The Potential Increase Of Suicide In Texas

We like to be careful talking about that because these are preventable increases, so we weren't doing a very good job before.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults. It's the third leading cause of premature death. These are record rates — 3,800 Texans died from suicide in 2018 which is the most recent year we have complete data.

If those trends continue and we just pile on top of those existing bad outcomes, now the added stress of unemployment, we will see basically for every 5% increase — and a 5% increase is comparable to what happened during the Great Recession in 2008 — we would see an additional 300 Texans die from suicide and the numbers are even sort of slightly worse for drug overdose.

But I think the thing to me that is also scary about that is we're not talking about 5% increases in unemployment. We could be seeing 20% increases, which is comparable to what happened during the Great Depression, or maybe even more. 

The big question is going to be do those increased unemployment rates persist because that's when people despair. If it's something that we bounced back from quickly and the rates come back, we will be better. But I think there's a lot of reasons to be concerned that that might not happen that quickly. 

Got a tip? Email Justin Martin at Jmartin@kera.orgYou can follow Justin on Twitter @MisterJMart.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.