There are so many factors that can affect your mental health; Job, family stress, relationships, economy, peer pressure are just a few. When you factor in a health emergency like a pandemic, you would figure that the incidents of suicide or suicide ideation would increase. Has it? And who has it affected the most?
With mask mandates, additional vaccinations, the scare of infection, closing of business and/or restriction of business hours can put additional stress on someone who is already apprehensive or has anxiety about leaving the house. For someone who is naturally social and outgoing, these precautions may feel particularly restrictive and give the feeling of being ‘cooped up’ and disconnected from family, friends and co-workers.
While tele-connections (telecommute, telehealth, tele-ed etc.) are safe and contact-free ways of dealing with doctor appointments, work and school obligations, they have their own drawbacks and pitfalls.
Taking all these factors (and more) into account, JAMA Psychiatry refers to it as a “Perfect Storm” for suicide mortality.
According to the CDC, the preliminary data indicate a decrease in the national suicide rate for 2020, but there is no information that is broken down by demographics. Also, the toll on mental health that the pandemic has caused may not appear directly in the data. What the pandemic HAS provided is more conversations about mental health. This helps to educate the public, improve policy and education that flows into daily life.
The CDC’s data of a 5.6% decrease in the overall suicide rate only provides a general and broad view of the entire picture. The suicide rate can vary among different demographics such as income, education level, region, gender and race.
In the past year, studies have shown that some communities are more negatively impacted than others and healthcare disparities that existed prior to 2020—especially among Black Americans—were only exacerbated by the pandemic.
One example was illustrated by cardiologist Clyde W. Yancy, MD, MSc in a journal article stating, “In Chicago, more than 50% of COVID-19 cases and nearly 70% of COVID-19 deaths involve Black individuals, although [Black people] make up only 30% of the population”. Other areas in the country, including Louisiana, Michigan and New York City, were also noted by the doctor where Black Americans and other demographic groups were more affected and died from covid at disproportionate rates compared to White Americans.
Children, according to a report from Mental Health America, are experiencing the highest rates of depression and anxiety than any other demographic. The suicide risk of youth has increased due to loneliness and isolation away from friends and peers. Some school districts have strongly pushed for reopening their schools as quickly as possible due to the increase in suicides among their student population. Clark County, Las Vegas is once such district.
Jesus Jara, the Clark County superintendent stated, “When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn’t just the Covid numbers we need to look at anymore, we have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, to see them, to look at them. They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope.” The number of student suicides in Clark County within the first 9 months of school closures was 18. This is double the number (nine) for the entire previous year.
“I think we need to be prepared for some more long-term impact on mental health. Research has shown that children and teens may experience symptoms of depression up to nine years after experiencing extended feelings of loneliness.”
— ANNIE GEORGE-PUSKAR, PHD
I believe that this is true for adults as well. It’s apparent that covid or the effects of covid has a mental health impact on the population, across various demograhics. There are sources out there that can help if you, a colleague or loved one starts to show signs of suicide ideation.
There is no shame in reaching out for help.