Public policy during the COVID-19 epidemic has focused relentlessly on the number of virus infections, hospitalizations and death. Given that monomaniacal, media-driven fixation, other metrics of social health and well have been largely ignored in the debate over how rapidly to return the county back to something resembling normal.
Some obvious predictions: The shutdown will increase the prevalence of mental health issues like anxiety and depression, substance abuse, lapses among those trying to recover from addiction, domestic abuse, child abuse, and suicides. There tend to be long reporting lags — months, even years — with the relevant data sets so we can’t measure the impact of emergency measures in real time. And if policy makers can’t measure the impacts, they tend to act as if these things are not happening at all.
These are national numbers but I report them as a possible indicator of what might be happening in Virginia. According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline, by the end of March, there was a 22% increase in the number of calls coming from people younger than 18.
Lockdown orders are first and foremost public health and safety measures. But statistically speaking, home is not the safest place for every young person. RAINN reports that about 34% of child sexual abusers are family members. Closing schools and canceling youth activities like sports removes children from the watchful eyes of “mandatory reporters” — those trusted adults, like teachers, nurses and child care providers, who are required by law in most states to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect.
If readers come across data that supports or contradicts the predictions of deteriorating social health conditions, please let me know.
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