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Suicide Prevention Efforts: One Year After COVID-19

16 Mar 2021 — 4 min read

BY AFSP

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Boots on the Ground: Advocating for Suicide Prevention in the Military, and Beyond

NEW YORK (MARCH 16, 2021) – This month marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. This has been a year of extreme loss, from the loss of more than 500,000 Americans, to many other types of losses from employment to established routines and ways of staying socially connected. Today the Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Dr. Christine Moutier released this statement:

“While suicide risk factors, such as anxiety, social isolation, economic stress, and suicidal ideation have increased during the pandemic, it is important for everyone to understand that suicide risk is complex and protective factors also play a powerful role. While we do not yet have national suicide data from the full year of 2020, early data from all reporting states (Florida, Massachusetts, Utah, and Hawaii) show that the overall suicide rates declined or saw no change in 2020, compared with previous year. This early data helps dispel this common misconception.

  • In Florida, suicide rates in 2020 saw a 13 percent drop from the previous year, and a 16 percent drop from 2018
  • Reports suggest that suicide rates in Massachusetts from March-May of 2020 were in line with the expected range based on recent years' trends
  • In Utah, the number of suicide deaths did not increase in the first 39 weeks of 2020; the number of suicide deaths is consistent with the previous three years
  • Suicide rates in Hawaii decreased to 124 suicides from April through December 2020, which is lower than the 150 suicides in the same nine-month periods from 2015 to 2019

While this data is encouraging from an overall population level, it is imperative we do not let up on addressing suicide risk factors or implementing evidence-based suicide prevention strategies. Suicide is not a simple issue to solve nor one in which there’s a one-size-fits-all approach, but we all can play a role in preventing suicide by safeguarding our own and others’ mental health, educating one another on mental health and suicide, as well as providing resources for particular communities, such as youth, minoritized populations, and others where there’s a disproportional impact of the pandemic.

  • Youth and Young Adults: While the shift towards remote learning has protected physical safety for children and teachers, continued isolation, the loss of loved ones or economic hardship, can impact children’s mental health. While there is currently no concrete data demonstrating causation between remote learning and children's mental health or suicide, there are steps parents, teachers, and other caring adults can take to protect the mental health of our children during this time. These include: taking care of your own mental health, having honest conversations with your children, sticking to routines as much as possible, ensuring your children get physical exercise, and enlisting the help of a mental health professional when needed.
  • Minoritized Communities: Health disparities have been prevalent for decades and have been even more exacerbated by the COVID-19 particularly when it comes to mental health in medically underserved communities. LGBTQ, American Indian, Alaska Native, Black and Latinx and other communities continue to face elevated suicide risk and long-standing cultural and socioeconomic barriers, such as limited access to mental health care or limited information about how to access resources and get help. These disparities cannot continue and it is incumbent on political leaders and the medical community to take the necessary steps to create a mental health care system that is equitable for everyone. At AFSP, we are committed to building partnerships and implementing programs designed to address these challenges, accelerate suicide research related to underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and elevating voices in our field that represent diverse communities.

The public health crisis of COVID-19 has been incredibly trying from both a physical and mental health perspective, however I am deeply encouraged by the way people have come together within their communities to support one another; the increasingly open dialogue among friends and family, in the media, and within workplaces regarding mental health; and the prevalence of telemedicine and other tools that make mental health resources more accessible than ever. After vaccines are distributed and the pandemic dissipates, we must remember the lessons learned about mental health during this time and continue work to protect mental health and prevent suicide.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, with an Advocacy office in Washington, DC, AFSP has local chapters in all 50 states with programs and events nationwide. Learn more about AFSP in its latest Annual Report, and join the conversation on suicide prevention by following AFSP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

 

Contact: Alexis O’Brien, 347-826-3577, aobrien@afsp.org

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