The rate of US suicides dropped sharply during the pandemic – the largest decline in 4 years

  • Early data shows suicide rates fell nearly 6% in 2020 – the biggest annual decline in four decades.
  • Telehealth visits and the comradery in the early days of the pandemic may contribute to the trend.
  • Experts say people may suffer from mental health problems long after the pandemic.
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Rates of suicide dropped in 2020, reaching a new low for the first time since 2015, and experts are surprised.

Early government data shows that in 2020, suicides fell almost 6% compared to the year before, which is the biggest annual drop in four decades. Suicide has been the US’s 10th leading cause of death for years, but the combination of COVID-19 and fewer suicide deaths have now made it 11th on the list.

It’s unclear why suicides were less common in a pandemic year, but experts believe the early days of COVID-19 brought out a sense of solidarity akin to what we see during war or a hurricane.

“There’s a heroism phase in every disaster period, where we’re banding together and expressing lots of messages of support that we’re in this together,” Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told the Associated Press. “You saw that, at least in the early months of the pandemic.”

Moutier said the increase of telehealth services may have contributed to the decline too.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not published the national suicide rates in 2020. Although death certificates are still trickling in, officials suspect the drop will remain the same.

People may suffer from mental health problems after the pandemic

Throughout the pandemic, isolation, job loss, and stress have caused an uptick in depression and anxiety, and rates of unmet therapy needs have risen.

These mental health trends have caused researchers to speculate whether there will be more suicides in the pandemic, but the latest data shows there hasn’t been an uptick so far.

Once we return to relative “normalcy,” people may suffer from mental health problems long after the pandemic, according to Moutier, as they may have lost a person or a life experience.

“There’s sort of an evolution of mental health distress,” she said. “It’s possible we will see the whole mental health ramifications of this pandemic”.