NEW YORK (AP) – The number of suicides in the United States fell by almost 6% last year amid a coronavirus epidemic, the biggest drop in at least four decades, according to the government.
Death certificates are still coming, և the count may increase. But officials expect the significant downturn to continue, despite fears that COVID-19 could lead to more suicides.
It is difficult to say exactly why suicide deaths have dropped so much, but one factor may be a phenomenon in the early stages of wars and national catastrophes, some experts say.
“In every disaster, there is a stage of heroism where we unite together, sending many messages of support that we are in together,” said Christine Moutier, chief physician of the American Suicide Prevention Foundation. “You saw it at least in the first months of the epidemic.”
It may also have contributed to the increase in access to telehealth services or other efforts to reverse the nation’s suicide.
U.S. suicides have steadily increased since the early 2000s until 2018, when national suicide rates reached their highest level since 1941. In 2019, that figure finally fell slightly. Experts note that mental health screenings and other suicide prevention efforts have increased.
Last year, that number dropped to 45,000. It was the lowest suicide rate in the United States since 2015.
Many worried that such progress might end when COVID-19 arrived.
The epidemic raised a wave of business closures. Millions of people were forced to stay home, many of them alone. According to the survey, more Americans reported depression, anxiety, drugs, and alcohol use. Adding to this dangerous mix, arms purchases increased by 85% in March 2020.
But last spring saw a sharp drop in suicide rates for the year, says Farida Ahmad, CDC, author of a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association detailing the decline.
Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the nation, but by 2020 it had dropped to 11th. This was largely due to the arrival of COVID-19, which killed at least 345,000 Americans and became the nation’s No. 3 killer. But the drop in suicide rates also contributed to the drop in the rating.
The CDC has not yet announced the level of national suicides in 2020, nor has it provided a breakdown of suicides by state, age or ethnicity.
Mutier is looking forward to seeing more. For example, although overall suicides decreased last year, there may not be suicides among young people, he said.
He is optimistic that the recent downturn will start a steady trend. But he also fears that it could have a delayed effect on the mental health of many as they move on to the initial threats of an epidemic but become immersed in mourning for lost property.
“There is an evolution of mental health,” he said. “We may see all the mental health of this epidemic in the future.”
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.