Despite the anxieties and tumult of the COVID-19 pandemic, overall suicide rates in the United States fell by about 3% between 2019 and 2020. But during the same time frame, suicides increased among people aged 10 to 34. They also rose among Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Hispanic males, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Although early in 2020 sociologists were expecting a ‘perfect storm’ of suicide risks during the pandemic, early local data sets from the U.S. and abroad have almost universally been demonstrating a decrease in suicide rates,” Dr. Paul Nestadt, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine says.
“This data release confirms those early indicators, both in terms of the overall decrease as well as the increase in suicides among people of color, who were arguably hit harder by the true toll of the pandemic,” Nestadt adds.
Why the rise in communities of color?
The pandemic disproportionately affected people of color across the board, Dr. Melissa Shepard, a board-certified psychiatrist, psychotherapist and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine says. They were more likely to get COVID-19, more likely to lose a loved one from the disease and more likely to lose a job.
Dr. Shepard also notes that it has been hard to raise awareness and reach people of color.
“There has been a very big push to raise awareness on suicide and how to prevent suicide and spotting the signs,” she says. “We’re doing a good job with some populations and not with others … whatever sort of advocacy that we’re doing, it’s not reaching (people of color),” she says.
Study co-author Sally Curtin agrees. “These increases are pretty consistent with which groups were harder hit by the depression, anxiety, substance abuse and economic hardships during the pandemic,” Curtin, a demographic/health statistician at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics shares.
What the data shows
For the study, the researchers analyzed death records from the NCHS and compared deaths classified as