EDITOR’S NOTE: This story discusses suicide and addiction. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK(8255) connects the caller to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed. Those in need of mental health or substance abuse help can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Common belief has been that suicides increased in 2020 as pandemic-related lockdowns were enacted and joblessness increased.
Preliminary data released by the CDC last week published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates suicides actually decreased in 2020 in the U.S. compared to 2019. The data released last week is considered preliminary and is based on death certificate information. More complete information will be available late in 2021.
The data also found a huge rise in overall deaths; more than 3.3 million Americans died in 2020, nearly 500,000 people more than previous years. While COVID-19 was the primary cause for the increase in deaths (an estimated 345,223 coronavirus-related deaths reported in 2020), deaths from heart disease, unintentional injuries, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease all had increases in 2020.
Researchers said that the increase of deaths related to unintentional injuries were likely due to drug overdoses.
“These increases may indicate, to some extent, underreporting of COVID-19, ie, limited testing in the beginning of the pandemic may have resulted in underestimation of COVID-19 mortality,” the researchers wrote. “Increases in other leading causes, especially heart disease, Alzheimer disease, and diabetes, may also reflect disruptions in health care that hampered early detection and disease management. Increases in unintentional injury deaths in 2020 were largely driven by drug overdose deaths.”
While the data may come as a surprise, a November 2020 study published in the British Medical Journal indicated no discernible increase in suicides globally due to the pandemic.
“Tackling known risk factors that are likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic is crucial,” the authors wrote. “These include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, hopelessness, feelings of entrapment and burdensomeness, substance misuse, loneliness, domestic violence, child neglect or abuse, unemployment, and other financial insecurity.”
Suicide deaths by year: