Case study COVID-19 White Paper Series

COVID-19 White Paper Series

SUMMARY – In the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Meadows Institute emerged as a trusted source for data-driven projections regarding the outbreak’s effect on our economy and the resulting mental health impacts. White papers detailing the recession’s impact on suicide and drug overdose deaths helped frame a national discussion and kept federal, state, and local policy makers informed.


Number of Americans potentially lost to suicide per 5-point increase in unemployment rate, August 2020*


Americans reporting some negative impact to their mental health during the pandemic in July, 2020**

*Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, **Kaiser Family Foundation

Case Study Details

The Challenge

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe in early 2020, it brought the state, national, and world economies to a halt in an unprecedented fashion. People everywhere faced the sudden risk of losing their jobs, childcare, or their homes in addition to the stress of worrying about the virus infecting themselves or family members.

With attention and resources focused on the immediate public health response and economic crisis, the potential of a second epidemic of escalating mental health needs needed to be emphasized at the state and national levels.

Our Approach

Utilizing data from past recessions, the Meadows Institute designed a model to project the effects sudden and extensive unemployment would have on mental health and substance use.

The model projected varying levels of unemployment rates ranging from as high as 20% (approaching Great Depression levels) to levels in line with the recession of 2007-2009, which saw unemployment rise 5%.

Charted against pre-COVID rates of suicide and overdose deaths, the data indicated that for every 5% increase in unemployment, we could annually lose an additional 4,000 Americans (including 300 Texans) to suicide, and 5,500 Americans (including 425 Texans) to drug overdose.

Over several months, the information was further detailed to specific populations to help better inform policy makers and health systems. Our series of white papers detailed impacts on each U.S. state as well as our nation’s veteran population.

An additional white paper looked at policy solutions. Our research found universal access to the Collaborative Care Model for treating mental health issues and medication-assisted treatment for people battling drug addiction could not only mitigate the projected increases in both suicide and overdose deaths due to the COVID-19 recession, they could potentially reduce rates to below pre-pandemic levels.

We launched a strategic communications effort to educate policy makers, media, and health systems on the projections, call to action, and policy solutions. Our series was widely cited in stories, columns, and editorials in hundreds of media outlets throughout the year, including the Washington Post, CNN, and every major newspaper in Texas.


The Meadows Institute’s work framed the national discussion around the potential effects of the pandemic on mental health, as well as the critical importance of continuing to adequately fund mental health care in the state and nation.

Our work has kept this issue front and center, providing data that policy makers can trust, better informing their decisions moving forward.

Explore More

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Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19, Vol. 1

The first in the COVID-19 White Paper Series focuses on how an economic recession could increase rates of mental health and substance use disorders and result in deaths from suicide and substance overdoses.

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Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19, Vol. 2

The second in our COVID-19 White Paper Series focuses on the mental health impacts of the pandemic, specifically among our nation's veterans.

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Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19, Vol. 3

The third in our COVID-19 White Paper Series focuses on preventing pandemic-related suicide and overdose deaths.

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