The suicide rate in the U.S. fell by nearly 6 percent last year, the largest decline in four decades, despite lockdowns, deaths and other difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according preliminary government data reviewed by The Associated Press.
Fewer than 45,000 suicides were reported last year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the lowest number of U.S. suicides since 2015.
The wire service notes that death certificates are still coming in, but officials expect the drop to endure.
The number of suicides in the U.S. hit a peak in 2018, the highest rate since 1941, according to AP. The 2018 number came after almost two decades of a steadily increasing suicide rate beginning in the early 2000s.
A slight fall in cases was recorded in 2019 that was attributed to increased mental health screenings along with other suicide prevention methods.
The reason for the 2020 decline is unclear, but one expert told the AP that it could be attributed to a common phenomenon seen in the early stages of natural disasters and wars.
“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,” Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told the outlet. “You saw that, at least in the early months of the pandemic.”
Moutier said the decrease could also possibly be attributed to the availability of telehealth services.
However, Moutier said she would like to see the demographic breakdown of suicides once it is reported by the CDC, saying it is possible that suicides did not drop among youths and young adults.
“It’s possible we will see the whole mental health ramifications of this pandemic” at a later point, Moutier told the outlet.
The news comes just days after a study released by the Medical Journal of Lancet Psychiatry found that one in three survivors of COVID-19 received diagnoses for psychological or neurological conditions six months after their infections.