Story at a glance

  • During March 2020, the Disaster Distress Helpline saw a 338 percent increase in call volume compared with February 2020.
  • Counselors are reporting a number of calls related to the pandemic, including about social isolation.
  • In past disasters, suicide rates have sometimes dropped as people come together.

A new report released this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) expresses concern about the potential for increased suicide rates due to economic stress, social isolation, medical problems and other factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Concerning disease models have led to historic and unprecedented public health actions to curb the spread of the virus. Remarkable social distancing interventions have been implemented to fundamentally reduce human contact. While these steps are expected to reduce the rate of new infections, the potential for adverse outcomes on suicide risk is high," states the JAMA report, which also stresses the emphasized need for enhanced suicide prevention efforts.


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In the meantime, crisis centers and lifelines nationwide are working extra hard around the clock due to calls related to the pandemic.

Although data on numbers of calls specifically related to COVID-19 distress are not yet available for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of locally operated crisis centers, Lifeline counselors confirm receiving numerous calls from people expressing concern over their health, economic and financial stability, and substance use.

Senior Director of Communications Frances Gonzalez tells Changing America, “In addition, counselors are connecting with healthcare providers and workers expressing their own distress and anxiety related to their work and health, as well as people facing grief related to COVID-19.”

Gonzalez adds that, “Disaster Distress Helpline, a sub-network of the Lifeline that is focused on providing emotional support to people affected by natural and human-caused disasters, has experienced significant volume increases.” 

Citing numbers, she says, “During March 2020, the Disaster Distress Helpline saw a 338 percent increase in call volume compared with February 2020.” 


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Gonzalez says Disaster Distress Helpline counselors have reported callers "expressing feelings of isolation and interpersonal concerns related to social distancing, as well as financial concerns. Counselors are also hearing from healthcare providers and workers expressing their own distress and anxiety related to their work." 

Gonzalez recommends this link to find a local center in the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you need help:

The 24/7, free, confidential help and support hotline is: 800-273-TALK (8255) 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also offers this link with five steps recommended to help others in crisis. These include: ask, keep them safe, be there, help them connect and follow up.

The just-released JAMA report does conclude with what it calls "optimistic considerations" that offer hope.  

"There may be a silver lining to the current situation. Suicide rates have declined in the period after past national disasters (eg., the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks). One hypothesis is the so-called pulling-together effect, whereby individuals undergoing a shared experience might support one another, thus strengthening social connectedness," states the JAMA report.

"Recent advancements in technology (eg., video conferencing) might facilitate pulling together. Epidemics and pandemics may also alter one’s views on health and mortality, making life more precious, death more fearsome, and suicide less likely."

Published on Apr 22, 2020