Source: Unsplash/ Matthew Ball
The initial blow of the pandemic in early 2020 was shocking and terrifying, to say the least. The world was at a standstill for the first few months, watching helplessly as the virus forced governments and economies on their knees. What health authorities and mental health experts initially thought would be a trigger to a staggering rise in suicide cases in the United States and other parts of the world surprisingly became a catalyst for a significant drop in suicide rates in the country. Government authorities revealed that suicide rates in the country dropped by a surprising 6%, the biggest drop seen in the last forty years. While this data may be hinting at a temporary victory, America is faced with a new challenge as a rise in symptoms of anxiety and depression disorders was recorded.
There is no conclusive theory that could explain the substantial decline in suicide rates in the country despite the effects of the pandemic on the economy, health, safety, mental state, and emotional well-being of people in general. There is a phenomenon, however, that experts suggest may be responsible for this significant drop in the suicide rate, one that is commonly observed during the early stages of war or a national disaster.
“There’s a heroism phase in every disaster period, where we’re banding together and expressing lots of messages of support that we’re in this together,” Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, reveals. “You saw that, at least in the early months of the pandemic.”
Another factor that may have contributed to this decline is the increase in the availability of telehealth services and other relevant services that were established to curb the country’s overwhelming suicide concern. Between the years 2000 and 2018, there has been a surprising rise in suicide cases, the highest since 1941. In 2019, however, improvements were observed, and experts credited this to successful mental health screenings and many suicide prevention initiatives around the country.
On the other hand, a Household Pulse Survey shows that 41.1% average share of adults reported symptoms of anxiety disorder and/ or depressive disorder as of January 2021, a big leap from the 11% reported from January to June 2019. Reporters further reveal that four in every ten adults in the United States have reported these symptoms during the pandemic, a significant rise from the previous one in ten adults who reported the same from January to June 2019.
There is also a rise in substance use. In June 2020, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a survey that showed 13% of adults reported new or increased substance use due to COVID-19-related stress. During that survey, 11% of adults expressed that they had thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days.
Interestingly, another reliable study revealed that 18% of individuals, to include people who did not have a past psychiatric diagnosis, who were diagnosed with COVID-19 were later diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Some of these diagnoses include anxiety and mood disorders.
The suicide rates may have gone down significantly, but many Americans living with a mental health condition are a long way from fully recovering from their state. There is still a pressing need to continue strengthening mental health advocacies and support programs to help patients get better. This initiative cannot be done by government authorities alone as a significant amount of support needs to come from communities where these individuals reside. As America heals, this generation can choose to contribute to that process and help people who are suffering silently.