One of the looming questions among many during the #Covid19 global pandemic is the effect it will have on suicide rates due to the underlying economic failure that we are witnessing in global markets impacting unemployment and financial survival. During times of high unemployment suicide rates increase as people feel pressed, pinched and see their personal finances and life as hopeless. To be sure there are many underlying factors that precipitate suicides. Family history, drugs and alcohol, and mental health issues all play into the statistics. However, the increase during times of crisis cannot be ignored especially for those already battling mental health issues such as depression, grief, and a profound sense of loss. Coupled with social distancing, or home isolation and the innate human need for social contact we could be facing the perfect storm.
The U.S. suicide rate during the Great Depression was staggering. However, the rate in 2018 was not far behind those alarming numbers. There are many factors but one that cannot be ignored (and I’m a gun owner) is the increase in gun ownership and the increased rates. Suicide by gun (50% of all suicides) remains one of the highest suicide methods and it only stands to reason that with the access to more guns the rates increase during times of perceived desperation. 2/3’s of all gun deaths in the U.S. are from suicide. No, I’m not saying get rid of guns. Dr. Glenn Sullivan, professor of psychology at VMI and a clinical psychologist notes the historical suicide numbers in a recent post for Psychology Today :
The U.S. suicide rate was 12.1 per 100,000 from 1920-1928, during the Roaring Twenties. After the stock market crash of 1929, the suicide rate skyrocketed 50% to 18.1 per 100,000. The suicide rate over the next decade of economic depression (1930-1940) stayed at a terribly high 15.4 per 100,000, until the national emergency of World War II, when it declined significantly.
Unemployment is a well-established risk factor of suicide. One-out-of-three people who die by suicide are unemployed at the time of their deaths. For every 1-point increase in the unemployment rate, the suicide rate tends to increase .78 points. One of the silent drivers of our current suicide crisis is the high percentage of working-age men not participating in the labor force.
In 2018, the U.S. suicide rate was already at 14.8 per 100,000 — dangerously close to those Great Depression rates. The average rate between 2008 and 2018 was about 13.1 per 100,000. If the U.S. rate jumps in the same manner it did after the 1929 stock market crash, then the national suicide rate could rise to 16.6 per 100,000. In other words, 2021 could see more than 54,000 deaths by suicide (versus about 48,000 in 2018). The six thousand excess deaths — which I fervently hope do not occur — would be additional victims of the coronavirus emergency and its economic impact.
Suicide is an act of desperation and hopelessness. Yes, it is directly related to mental health. As one who has lost a family member from suicide, I can vouch for the lingering and devastating impact upon surviving loved ones. We are losing lives globally in overwhelming numbers due to Covid19. We cannot let this virus and it’s social/economic impact drag the already lonely, depressed and struggling to see suicide as a viable option.
If you know anyone, ANYONE, a family member, friend, co-worker, or neighbor who is already struggling to cope press into them during this pandemic. Call them, text them, video chat, check on them and let them know you care for them. Follow up and see how they are doing. Ask them hard questions in love. And do not second-guess your gut if you have any sense they are considering suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
Whatever the reason, no matter how desperate, lonely, or hopeless it may seem we have got to stem the tide of this ever-increasing mental health issue. Veterans are among the highest demographics for suicide. The Veteran’s Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255 or you can text to 838255
Remind those who struggle they are loved, prized and needed by you, their family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Covid19 sucks and we must reduce its impact medically, economically and in regard to mental health any way we can.