Impact of COVID-19 On Suicide Rates
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found, that along with rising stress levels have come rising rates of suicide. A national survey from the end of June 2020 found that more than 40 percent of people who responded reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression, higher levels of substance use, and other struggles. Additionally, more than 10 percent said they had seriously contemplated suicide within the previous 30 days, compared to only 4 percent reporting suicidal ideations in 2018 within the previous 12 months. Interestingly, a similar rise in suicides was observed in Hong Kong in 2003 during the year of the SARS outbreak.
As workers’ stress and depression levels are rising, companies are increasingly in a position to help their employees. One company making efforts to address the mental health of its employees is Starbucks, which has launched an app meant to improve the mental health of employees and help them deal with stress and anxiety. Starbucks also announced they are making changes to their employee assistance program in direct response to employee feedback and mental health experts.
“Our work ahead will continue to be rooted in listening, learning, and taking bold actions,” the coffee giant said, referencing “the power of small acts and conversation to strengthen the human connection.”
Starbucks is also setting an example for other companies by planning to conduct training for managers on how to better support their workers, especially those experiencing a mental health crisis, substance abuse, or other problem.
The Society for Human Resource Management reported that Starbucks employees explained that much of their stress is coming from cuts to shift hours while also having employees work longer shifts with fewer people. Stress, as well as depression, rates have risen all over the country. This would seem to be a common theme throughout the country, with Aetna reporting that rising levels of stress and depression, as well as worsening and rising levels of addiction, are putting a strain on the health care system, as well as employers.
Suicide In Youth
Some of the key triggers for suicide are job loss and isolation. Particularly for children and youth, isolation has been a part of the pandemic that has had serious consequences. Even before the pandemic, rates of suicide among young people were sobering, with suicide being the second leading cause of death of American teenagers. Statistically, around one in 15 high school students report attempting suicide each year. And certain groups are disproportionately at risk of attempting or completing suicide, including youth in the juvenile justice system or foster care, LGBTQ+ youth, and those young members of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribes. Sean Joe explained that many still don’t believe suicide affects children and young people.
“One of the myths that are challenging is that children do not die by suicide,” he said. “And they do.”
One of the most concerning findings in a recent analysis conducted in 2020 by the Psychological Bulletin is that current interventions – things like helplines, therapy, medicine, and hospitalization – only seem to reduce suicidal behavior by about 9 percent.
What You Can Do
As disheartening as the numbers can be, there are still steps you can take to reduce the risk of your loved one, young or old, attempting and completing suicide.
Maintain Meaningful Social Connections
As much as possible, keeping up with social connections, even virtually, can have a big impact on the chance of a person attempting or completing suicide. These connections help us all live better, longer, happier lives. It’s important to remember that the number of connections isn’t as important as the quality of the connections.
Know The Warning Signs
Researching and understanding the warning signs that your loved one may be contemplating suicide is the first step to take. Because suicide has more than one cause, it’s important to have a comprehensive idea of what warning signs to look for.
Know Your Loved One’s Specific Mental Health Needs
Unchecked mental illness and substance abuse are some of the leading causes of suicide, especially with the increased stress and anxiety stemming from the pandemic. Be aware of the signs of mental illness and how you can help your loved one who is struggling.
Remove Access To Lethal Means
When it comes to suicide, firearms are the most common lethal method of completing suicide. Studies show us that restricting or eliminating a person’s access to this and other lethal means can be hugely effective at preventing a person from completing suicide.
No one has come through the last year unscathed. Everyone has been affected by the pandemic. However, some are struggling more than others and it’s a matter of life and death. Adults and youth are both seeing rising numbers of suicides, all of which could be prevented by taking the right measures. By staying informed and educated, being mindful of your mental health, and watching for warning signs in those you love, you can help reduce the chances of suicide.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out to SAVE.org or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. Additional resources can be found at Speaking of Suicide