Okay, seriously…how is it possible that suicide numbers dropped during the pandemic?

We may be close to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the scars of this battle will remain with society for a long, long time. Among the more devastating damages of COVID-19 have been the toll on mental health, with increasing signs of mental illness, greater addiction rates, increased use of mental health resources

…and a decline in suicides…

Wait, what?

Yeah. I don’t get it either. But, according to preliminary data, suicides went down in 2020:

 From 2019 to 2020, deaths by suicide declined by 5.6%, from 47,511 to 44,834, per the CDC. It was the third consecutive year of decline. Suicides [also] went down in April and May of last year, a different trend than in years past, Farida Ahmad, health scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics, tells Axios.

This is astonishing. And it defies expectations, with many predicting that COVID and the economic shutdowns would lead to a massive spike in suicide. And yet, that hasn’t been the case, despite the increase in every other category that would be a predictive factor for an increase in suicides, including mental illness, unemployment, and suicide.

This begs the question…why? What’s going on here? I’ve read a few articles on the subject, and they offer some different thoughts:

  • Telehealth played a big role. In many states, it became easier than ever to access mental health resources, as regulations were waved that enabled people to get access to telehealth. As a result, more people may have been able to seek mental health resources, thus saving their life.
  • There were huge, concentrated efforts to encourage people to get mental health help – maybe more so than ever before. Governor’s across the country spoke about it. People still do to this day. As a result, it seems possible that stigma – once a formidable barrier – was shattered. This may have put more people into mental health help.
  • Some noted that it seemed possible that a “heroism effect” was in place – similar to that which occurs at the start of a war or another catastrophe – where a sense of “we’re all in this together” kept more alive. If this is truly the case, then we need to be cautious, as it seems like that such an impact would fade over time.
  • The pandemic forced a massive reevaluation of the way we look at our lives, as more people found that they could live without certain things, and are thus able to live better lives. This is an interesting philosophical argument, one that may also be playing a role in the decline of workers across the economy.

It is also worth noting that a more advanced look at the data is needed: For example, did suicide decrease more in some groups? Did it particularly spike among teenagers and young adults, groups that were believed to be facing particular difficulties during this pandemic? Furthermore, what about differences among racial and economic demographics? What about people who could work at home versus those who could not?

My opinion? All of the above, and then some. I’d also offer this caution…there is no way, no way, that this is it, that we are now on a glide path towards a permanent reduction of suicide. I am absolutely concerned about the long-term impacts this will have on mental health, as well as how this may drive up suicide rates. There is so much more to this story that we absolutely do not understand, and I really hope that others have more insight than me!

Anything to add? Any thoughts about why suicide may have dropped as it did? Let us know in the comments below!

One thought on “Okay, seriously…how is it possible that suicide numbers dropped during the pandemic?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s