Suicide in the time of COVID: Where are we a year later?

Key takeaways:

  • A year after the pandemic started, we have updates on mental health and suicide.

  • Suicide is on the rise because of the pandemic.

  • Leading advocacy groups and professional organizations created a unified vision statement for transforming mental health and substance abuse care.

  • We offer resources for suicide prevention and crisis.

[4 MIN READ]

At the start of the pandemic, we wrote about suicide awareness and the need to focus on hope, resilience and recovery. Now, a year later, we’re checking in with updates about mental health and what Well Being Trust calls the “deaths of despair.”

Suicide is on the rise because of the pandemic

It’s not the news any of us wants to hear: deaths from suicide are rising because of the pandemic. Even as vaccines make their way across the country, the nation is still reeling from more than half-a-million COVID-19 deaths at the time of this writing. There are also millions of lost jobs, ongoing racial tensions, and erratic school schedules that leave kids and teens feeling unmoored. Sadness, grief, sorrow, discouragement, loss, frustration, abuse and isolation are a few of the prolonged feelings and situations that are causing more and more people to experience excessive amounts of stress and anxiety. As a consequence, this emotional trauma – both individual and collective – has pushed many people to their breaking points.

In 2020, Well Being Trust projected that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to 75,000 additional deaths of despair caused by drugs, alcohol and suicide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in the US. In 2020, Well Being Trust projected that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to 75,000 additional deaths of despair caused by drugs, alcohol and suicide.

From June 24 to June 30, 2020, Well Being Trust, ViacomCBS and the Benenson Strategy Group conducted an online survey of Americans ages 13-plus. They wanted to get a better understanding of attitudes toward mental health care.

The poll results showed that voters across party lines want Congress to come together to make mental health care more available and affordable for all Americans. Voters believe it would serve as a vital way to address the fallout from the pandemic. The huge numbers explain how important mental health care is to the nation: 79% of all registered voters say the pandemic has affected their mental health, including 39% who say it has affected them “a lot.”

Where do we go from here?

The aftereffects of the pandemic on mental health are likely to be felt for a long time — even after the actual pandemic is under control. The good news that there are currently focused and ongoing efforts to address the mental health crises leading to deaths of despair, including suicide.

The good news that there are currently focused and ongoing efforts to address the mental health crises leading to deaths of despair, including suicide.

Well Being Trust reports that in early 2020, leaders of the nation’s 14 top advocacy groups and professional organizations began meeting in emergency sessions. The goal was to propose ways to address the new wave of need caused by the pandemic. Their combined expertise in addressing suicide, severe mental illness and substance abuse led them to create a unified vision statement for Transforming Mental Health and Substance Abuse Care.

There’s a sense of hope and purpose about what needs to be done. These objectives are meant to:

  • Bring whole-person, virtual care outside the clinic setting to put relief within reach for the millions of people who need mental health care and who can’t visit medical centers in-person.
  • Appoint leaders who will advocate for resources that are equal to the needs of many diverse populations.
  • Create new ways to approach a mental health crisis response. Not every person in crisis needs the police to respond or to be evaluated in a jail or emergency room. There are less costly and more humane approaches.
  • Train health professionals and caregivers to identify and prevent mental health problems earlier. The targeted focus for this goal will be children, youth and families.
  • Address health inequalities. Focus on historical systemic injustices, such as racism and biased policies, that unduly impact the mental health of people of color.
  • Eliminate biased attitudes toward people who have mental health and substance use problems.
  • Improve access to services and quality of care by bringing together physical health, mental health and substance use services.
  • Hold public, private and health systems accountable for standards of care that improve outcomes and quality of life for all.
  • Raise the number and diversity of providers to help people who have mental health and substance use disorders.

The leaders within the group designed these goals to create conditions that promote well-being and a system of care. It’s a unified vision where all people can readily access mental health care across a full range of services.

Making sure to help the helpers

Well Being Trust, along with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, released the Guide to Promoting Health Care Workforce Well-Being During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The pandemic is intensifying existing issues for healthcare workers. Burnout is rampant, and joy in the work has vanished for many — which raises the stressors on the healthcare workforce to levels that have never been seen before. The guide details actions that employees, their leaders and their organizations can take to support their workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The pandemic is intensifying existing issues for healthcare workers. Burnout is rampant, and joy in the work has vanished for many — which raises the stressors on the healthcare workforce to levels that have never been seen before. 

By providing actionable tools to combat burnout, fatigue and emotional distress during and after the pandemic, the guide is a way for WBT to give back to those who are giving their all.

Resources for suicide prevention and crises

According to a survey by The Harris Poll, suicide is not seen as inevitable. Ninety-three percent of adults believe someone shows signs of suicidal thoughts ahead of time and that something can be done to help the person and reduce the number of people who die by suicide.

Keep these resources close at hand. They’ll help you learn more about suicide prevention and know where to go for help should you need it for yourself or someone you care about.

Your lifeline for suicide prevention:1-800-273-8255

In July 2022, there will be a new three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which will be easier to remember and dial in a crisis. The President recently signed this new National Suicide Hotline Designation Act into law.

Until the number is active in 2022, please share 1-800-273-TALK (8255) with anyone who needs to connect to the Lifeline. It’s a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or emotional distress. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Related resources

Get relevant, up-to-date information on the coronavirus (COVID-19) from Providence.

If you need care, don't delay. Learn more about your options.

Suicide awareness focuses on hope, resilience and recovery

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Well Being Trust

ViacomCBS & Well Being Trust 2020 Mental Health Survey

Transforming Mental Health and Substance Abuse Care

Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Guide to Promoting Health Care Workforce Well-Being During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Public Perception of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Survey Results

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Body & Mind Team is dedicated to providing medically-sound, data-backed insights and advice on how to reach and maintain your optimal health through a mixture of exercise, mindfulness, preventative care and healthy living in general.

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