Our nation’s younger generations are self-harming and dying in unprecedented numbers that appear to directly correlate with closures
Author of the article:Sabrina Maddeaux Publishing date:Dec 30, 2021 • 1 day ago • 5 minute read • 377 Comments
A pandemic that disproportionately kills the elderly is undeniably bad, but just as tragic is a response that disproportionately kills the young. As time goes on, the latter is claiming more and more Canadian lives.
In a devastating year-end update on COVID-19’s social and economic impacts, Statistics Canada estimates there were 19,884 “excess deaths” (more deaths than what would normally be expected) in Canada between March 2020 and May 2021. While excess deaths early in the pandemic largely occurred among seniors and were attributable to COVID-19, such deaths rose significantly later on among younger Canadians and were not caused by the virus.
Approximately 35 per cent –– or over 7,200 –– of total excess deaths occurred among those between 45 and 64 years old despite the demographic accounting for only seven per cent of COVID-related deaths. Perhaps even more disturbing, approximately 15.6 per cent –– or about 3,100 –– of Canada’s excess deaths occurred among those younger than 44, even though that youngest cohort accounts for only 0.7 per cent of the country’s COVID-19 deaths.
The report is clear: as the pandemic stretches on, it’s younger Canadians who are disproportionately dying
The report is clear: as the pandemic stretches on, it’s younger Canadians who are disproportionately dying. Not from the virus itself, but from the choices we’ve made along the way –– and continue to make. These deaths are largely due to unintentional overdoses and poisonings, and some by choice, among the populations most affected by prolonged social and economic restrictions. Opioid overdoses in particular increased by 88 per cent compared with the same time period prior to the pandemic.
As officials breathlessly report Omicron case numbers that appear to have diverged from hospitalization and death rates, the conversation about restrictions and lockdowns must be different than it was in early- to mid-2020. The risk calculus is simply not the same, and the level of harm we may inflict on the young and the vulnerable is immense.
StatCan found opioid-related hospitalizations have been highest among those with lower levels of income and education, who are unemployed or out of the labour force, who self-identify as Indigenous, who live in lone parent households, and who spend more than 50 per cent of their income on housing. The data also found high levels of stress among women, those aged 35 to 44, LGBTQ+ communities, and those who live with children under the age of 15. It’s no coincidence these groups are also among the most likely to be impacted by closures of businesses, community supports and schools.
As shocking as this latest report is, it comes with a caveat that means things are very likely worse than they seem. It covers the pandemic period only up to May 2021. This is about the time older Canadians began to receive vaccines. Since then, hospitalizations and deaths of the elderly and 65-plus demographic have plummeted, yet there’s every indication overdoses continue to spike. The portion of excess deaths younger Canadians actually account for is likely larger than it appears in StatCan’s year-end report.
And it’s not getting better. National modelling predicts a further increase in opioid overdose deaths through at least the first half of 2022 –– and that doesn’t even account for increasing rates of alcohol poisoning deaths. The other thing about substance abuse and addiction is that, even if they don’t result in death, they don’t simply disappear once stressors evaporate. Restrictions may eventually lift, but the substance-abuse issues that began or worsened during lockdowns will stick around for life, destroying livelihoods, relationships, and families in their wake. The potential collateral damage is, to use a term we’re now all intimately familiar with, exponential.
These are not easy deaths. We are constantly asked, and rightfully so, by medical professionals and media to imagine the scene inside COVID-19 hospital wards. To picture the patients on ventilators, struggling to breathe, that privacy laws won’t allow us to see. It only seems fair to ask the same for the young and the vulnerable, many dying alone in apartments or on streets from overdoses; skin turning blue, gurgling and seizing.
Also uncaptured by StatCan are the skyrocketing suicide attempts and self-harm rates among the very youngest Canadians. After last winter’s widespread lockdowns, some hospitals saw the number of youth admitted for suicide attempts triple within a four-month period. Those hospitalized during this period also generally stayed longer due to more serious attempts. Eating disorders in youth were described by doctors as “unprecedented,” and some children’s hospitals saw referrals increase by 90 per cent in the same four-month period. Children’s hospitals in Ontario considered transferring older teens to adult hospitals as they became too full to function.
Also uncaptured by StatCan are the skyrocketing suicide attempts and self-harm rates among the very youngest Canadians
Our nation’s younger generations are self-harming and dying in unprecedented numbers that appear to directly correlate with closures, and yet few seem willing to acknowledge this lest it result in hard conversations that don’t include lockdowns as acceptable recourse.
Meanwhile, Omicron data from South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States continues to point toward significantly less hospitalization and death. Preliminary Canadian data suggests the same pattern, combined with anecdotal reports that some of the hardest hit hospitals from earlier waves, like Brampton Civic Hospital in Ontario, are down to only two COVID patients in the ICU. It’s extremely difficult to reconcile this growing pool of evidence with calls for additional restrictions when we know what the cost of those restrictions will be.
Many proponents of harsher restrictions prefer to present this cost in economic terms, framing the choice as being between lives and dollars. This has the benefit of bestowing their views with moral righteousness while painting those who disagree as deranged Scrooge McDucks. We now know this is a straw man argument. There are lives on the other side of the scale, too, and they’re excessively young.
It’s a painful question to ask, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. At what point do COVID hospitalizations and deaths among older generations stop justifying the growing sacrifice of Canada’s young? If people aren’t willing to consider this question, and publicly justify their answers, they shouldn’t be in the business of recommending further lockdown measures.