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Risk of suicide and the COVID-19 pandemic

September 22, 2020
Published in: COVID-19, Mental Health

Best friends wearing masks and chatting

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many have been overwhelmed and experienced feelings of anxiety, fear, loneliness and sadness. People feel stress related to the disease and stress related to the economic impact of the pandemic.

The pandemic has progressed at a time that suicide rates were already rising in the United States. According to an article published in JAMA Psychiatry in April, 2020, the data for 2018 show the highest age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States since 1941.

Local data also reveals a concern about suicide. The 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment coordinated by Augusta Health revealed that between 2015 and 2017, there was an annual average age-adjusted suicide rate of 18.6 deaths per 100,000 population in our Staunton-Augusta County-Waynesboro region. That compares to a rate of 13.1 for Virginia and 13.6 for the United States for the same time period.

Amy Ghaemmaghami
Amy Ghaemmaghami
Director of Outpatient Behavioral Health at Augusta Health

"There is still little data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the suicide rate," says Amy Ghaemmaghami, Director of Outpatient Behavioral Health at Augusta Health. "During a stressful time like the pandemic, though, the feelings of fear and anxiety, sadness and loneliness, can become constant and overwhelming. The feeling of hopelessness could be overwhelming, so some may be having thoughts of suicide."

Depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts can emerge from a variety of concerns, situations and experiences and each person is different. Ghaemmaghami explains that the pandemic has brought some fears and stressors that didn't exist a year ago. "People now have fear that they will contract COVID-19 or a loved one will," explains Ghaemmaghami. "That fear could be of being sick alone or that a loved one will die alone in a hospital. Social isolation can cause loneliness, just as being in close quarters with family for an extended time can just be stressful! There may also be concern about being furloughed, or for essential workers, that they will be exposed to the disease at work. None of these fears were even in our minds just a few months ago."

Because September is National Suicide Prevention Month, it's a good time to discuss these fears and anxieties with each other and to discuss the warning signs of suicide and how to reach out for help if needed.

"It's very important to check on your friends, family and neighbors to make sure they are doing well—physically, mentally and emotionally," adds Ghaemmaghami. "And if you feel overwhelmed yourself, reach out to your friends, family or neighbors or call a health professional. We want you to know that you are not alone. We are here to help."

If you or someone you know has urges to attempt suicide or is feeling overwhelmed by hopeless and thoughts of not wanting to live, please:

  • Call 911 if it is an emergency situation.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-(800) 273-8255.

Contact Augusta Health's Outpatient Behavioral Health Counseling Center at (540) 213-2525. The Counseling Center works with adolescents and adults age 12 and older in group or individual appointments. Please call the center to discuss what would be the most appropriate care.

Suicide Warning Signs

Source: ndbh.com/suicide

Knowing and recognizing the warning signs is key to preventing suicide. Seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing any of these signs:
  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about having no reason to live
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Talking about being in unbearable pain
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Showing rage or seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Exhibiting daring or risk-taking behaviors
  • Showing lack of interest in future plan