Texas psychologists worry the suicide rate will rise during the pandemic

Mental Health Experts

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Isolated, stuck at home, and with no end it sight.

As people continue to deal with the societal impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Psychological Association is sounding the alarm about how rising risk factors may be increasing the suicide rate.

Though suicide data isn’t tracked in real time, there is cause for concern.

“When you have limited access to your previous forms of adaptive coping, you may struggle more,” Clinical Psychologist Kim Roaten said. “So for people who rely on social support, and that’s most of us, who then have limited access to those folks, it may be more challenging.”

Roaten works at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She said there is data showing that the rates of distress in America has increased significantly in the last six months.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in July found 53% of adults said worry and stress related to the coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health.

“We probably won’t know for a while what the true impact is to suicide, but we can hypothesize that if rates of distress and rates of psychiatric symptoms are increasing, the suicide rates will potentially increase as well,” Roaten said.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. At least 48,344 people died by suicide in 2018, and there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts.

VISIT: KXAN’s Support and Outreach for Mental Health resources

One bright spot in mental healthcare that’s emerged since the pandemic started is the use of telehealth.

Roaten said doctors have rapidly expanded their ability to connect with patients virtually, allowing them to connect with patients they’ve struggled to reach in the past.

“Many of our patients couldn’t, or wouldn’t access face-to-face mental health care in particular, and this has really expanded our ability to provide that service to people we would have not seen otherwise,” Roaten said.

If you’re worried a loved one may be struggling with their mental health, Roaten said ask them directly if they’re doing okay. From there you can help connect them with the support they need.

Suicide warning signs include:

  • Talking about committing suicide
  • Having trouble eating or sleeping
  • Exhibiting drastic changes in behavior
  • Withdrawing from friends or social activities
  • Losing interest in school, work, or hobbies
  • Preparing for death by writing a will and making final arrangements
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Having attempted suicide before
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Having recently experienced serious losses
  • Seeming preoccupied with death and dying
  • Losing interest in his or her personal appearance
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use

If you’re thinking about suicide call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741.

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