AUSTIN (KXAN) — Mental health issues are rising among adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
The Journal of the American Medicine says that the latest available data (2018) shows that suicide rates have been rising in the U.S. over the last two decades — and that the most recent numbers show the highest age-adjusted suicide rate since 1941.
People who are facing a suicidal crisis or emotional distress can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. More than 100 local crisis centers are a part of a national network working on this lifeline and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
While safety measures like social distancing are proven to reduce spread, the CDC says “the potential for adverse outcomes on suicide risk is high.”
From June 24 to 30, the CDC reports that U.S. adults reported mental health conditions in higher numbers due to COVID-19.
The CDC report shows that 40.9% of adults say they’ve had at least one mental health effect, including symptoms of anxiety or depression (30.9%), symptoms of trauma or stressor-related disorder (26.3%), and starting or increasing substance use to cope (13.3%).
Who are most at-risk right now?
Certain populations are more at risk for potential suicidal thoughts, the New England Journal of Medicine says.
These include people who have contracted COVID-19, those with preexisting conditions/immuno-compromised individuals, and those with histories of substances abuse.
Younger people, Latinx and Black populations are the most vulnerable right now, data shows.
The rates of those reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before the June CDC survey are higher among those between ages 18-24 (25.5%), essential workers (21.7%), and minority racial/ethnic groups (18.6% Hispanic, 15.1% non-Hispanic Black).
Another population of concern are the elderly, many of whom find themselves in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities, nation and statewide.
Are these issues translating into a rise in suicides in Texas?
That may not be so easy to pinpoint.
“There are concerns around the fact that even before the pandemic, there was a surge in cases across the country,” said Karen Ranus, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “So while we don’t have concrete data yet, we’re fairly confident that with all the added stress — job loss, anxiety — we’re likely to see that [increase].”
Locally, Integral Care answers calls made to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline within Travis County. Calls are routed to their 24/7 Crisis Helpline. You can also find more information at Texas Suicide Prevention.
Ranus explained that suicide numbers are often delayed, making actual numbers hard to tack down for some time. In fact, the most recent complete numbers for the state of Texas are also from 2018.
As of 2018, Texas ranked 38th in suicide death rates, according to AFSP. On average, one person was reported as having died by suicide every two hours.
According to Health and Human Services in 2019, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Texans ages 15 to 34 and is also the fourth-leading cause of death for Texans ages 35 to 44.
An April study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019 — A Perfect Storm?” echoed Ranus’ statements about suicide rates being on the rise.
The study’s authors, several psychiatric doctors, explain that many of the measures we currently use to protect ourselves from COVID-19 infection can easily contribute to an increase in depression and suicidal thoughts.
These factors include:
- Economic stress
- Social isolation
- Decreased access to community
- Barriers to mental health treatment
In Georgetown, Capt. Roland Waits says that while he can’t say that there has been a surge in suicide calls specifically, there does seem to be surge in mental health calls overall.
“It certainly feels there’s an increase in mental health calls across the board,” said Waits. “I’d be leery to call them suicide calls, but we do seem to be fielding more mental health ones.”
What can you do to help?
Texas Suicide Prevention says knowing the signs can be the first step in saving someone’s life.
According to TSP, these are the 10 Warning Signs of Suicide:
- Preoccupation with death and dying
- Drastic changes in behavior or personality
- A recent severe loss (such as a relationship) or threat of a loss
- Unexpected preparations for death such as making out a will
- Giving away prized possessions
- A previous suicide attempt
- Uncharacteristic impulsiveness, recklessness, or risk-taking
- Loss of interest in personal appearance
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Sense of hopelessness about the future
Additionally, Texas Suicide Prevention says asking a friend or family directly if they’ve ever thought of suicide lets them know you take their situation seriously and want to help.
If someone tells you they have contemplated suicide, you should evaluate the level of risk based on various circumstances, for instance whether they’ve planned doing it, if they’ve made previous attempts, availability of means of suicide, substance abuse history, and more.
If it seems likely that someone could act on their suicidal thoughts, you should stay with them and try to get them to agree to get help immediately. If danger is imminent, you should call 911 for a mental health deputy.
While only future data will be able to explain the correlation between the pandemic and possible suicide spikes, it’s clear that COVID-19 has adversely affected mental health for many worldwide. If you are facing a suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.