The COVID-19 pandemic has now surpassed one year and has caused myriad consequences. Social isolation, financial uncertainty, and an overall fear of the virus have affected us all in different ways, and we all have different ways of coping with that stress. While many people seek out healthy coping mechanisms, such as regular exercise or maintaining social connections virtually, Colorado has also seen an increase in drug and alcohol use over the past year.

In the Spring of 2020, the Robert Graham Center American Academy of Family Physicians in Partnership with the Well Being Trust released a report titled Projected Deaths of Despair from COVID-19 which examined the growing rates of deaths of despair in the United States leading up to and through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deaths of despair are defined as deaths due to drug, alcohol, and suicide and are often associated with socioeconomic factors.

While we know not all deaths of despair are due to these factors, they can play a role in elevating the numbers of these untimely deaths. Over nine different scenarios, this report found that ADDITIONAL deaths of despair could range from 27,664 to 154,037 based on the time it takes to recover from the fallout of the pandemic.

Our Stance

There are many conditions in our country that are now negatively impacting our behavioral health and well-being, but two primary reasons for the unprecedented need are the COVID-19 virus itself and the economic consequences associated with the emergency public health response.

As we work to support our communities, it is critical that those in need of behavioral health services have access to it before deaths of despair rise to even higher rates. We need to expand supports for those facing a substance use or mental health disorder whether it be due to the ramifications of COVID-19 or not. We need to ensure access to affordable housing, end food insecurity, and help individuals find and maintain meaningful work. As community behavioral health organizations prepare to expand their services and take on new clients, now is the time to direct federal and state resources to Colorado’s behavioral health safety net system.

Take Action

Learn More About SB21-137: The Behavioral Health Recovery Act

This bill will help fund substance use recovery programs, improve available behavioral health treatment for children, offer temporary financial housing assistance, and much, much more. Read the bill HERE and then let your legislator know you support this initiative.

Review CBHC's Summary of the Deaths of Despair Report

CBHC has created a summary of the report on Projected Deaths of Despair from COVID-19. This summary offers a brief look into the impact and causes of these tragic events as well as what can be done to prevent them.

Related Issues

Read the Full Deaths of Despair Report

The full report offers a look into how the potential COVID deaths of despair numbers were calculated and digs into solutions.

Taking Care of Yourself During COVID-19

Just as we want to be sure that we help prevent deaths of despair, we want to be sure that individuals have the right support now.

Find a Mental Health Center

If you are experiencing mental health or substance use issues at this time – or any time – there is a mental health center near you that can help.