If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-TALK (8255) at any time of the day or night, or chat online.
Suicide deaths fell by 9% at the peak of the pandemic stop compared to previous years, which is a surprise due to the increased reported levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
Between March and August 2020, more than 2,400 deaths were recorded in suicide than would normally be expected, said Dr. Jeremy Samuel Faust, an emergency physician in the Department of Health Policy and Public Health at Brigham and Boston Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.
The results were released last week in Journal of the American Medical Association.
“They landed and crashed dramatically at the peak of the shelter over a period of time,” said Faust, who co-authored the paper. “In April, we had a 16% reduction in suicides, and that’s when most of the country is closed.”
The numbers contradict last year’s predictions that she could go through a “death of despair” from suicide, alcohol and drugs as tall as 150,000. Former President Donald Trump has sounded the alarm as rational against extended lock orders.
Mortality rates for suicide were growing over the years, climbing 35% since 1999.
That changed last year. For the whole of 2020, suicide mortality fell by 5.6%, according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics. This can be compared to an increase in deaths from heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.
Researchers believe the pandemic forced people to give upmedical appointments, missing routine care that could recognize warning signs of illness.
Death from suicide is different, said Thomas Joiner, a psychology professor at Florida State University and a suicide expert.
“It’s an intriguing pattern. You have an increase in risk factors such as stress, anxiety and depression, but a decrease in the number of suicides,” he said.
He believes that availability has been expanded mental health services through telehealth, such as telephone or computer counseling, may be part of the reason.
“Access has increased and telehealth has been a better platform than many of us expected,” he said.
In addition, major employers and organizations were very aware of the mental health of workers during the pandemic, he said.
Another reason could be that some people who may have died from suicide died instead of COVID-19, said April Foreman, a clinician and board member of the American Suicide Society.
In 2019, suicide rates were highest among adults aged 45 and older, the same demographic rate atbiggerrisk of COVID-19. People with higher rates of health problems and poverty are also at higher risk of dying from suicide; and these are risk factors for COVID-19.
Suicide is also something that usually happens when people are isolated, Foreman said.
“Suicide is one of the things that very rarely happens in front of other people, it happens when you’re alone,” she said. “Although a lot of people were alone during COVID-19, many were imprisoned with their families.”
Faust’s team looked at what is known as excess mortality, the difference between deaths expected in a typical year and what happened during a pandemic. The researchers measured the monthly excess mortality from March to August 2020 and compared it with the monthly data from 2015 to 2020.
Faust hypothesized that the sense of gathering as a nation might be another reason for the decline.
“People had a sense of common purpose,” he said. “They were home in March and April because we sacrificed together so we could help each other. That’s how people felt we were part of something.”
Joiner called it a “paradoxical effect of togetherness.”
Suicide rates could remain stable if some of the underlying causes of suicide are addressed after a pandemic, including lack of access to mental health services, erosion of social support, and economic insecurity.
“If we focus on some of these things, maybe we could stabilize the suicide mortality rate,” Foreman said.
Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they call 741741.
Contact Elizabeth Weise at [email protected]