May 17, 2022

Suicide Rates Have Dropped but Many Concerns Persist

National statistics have shown a decline in suicide deaths in both 2019 and 2020, touted by some as a shift in the tide that has shown increases over decades. Despite these two data points, underlying factors and trends indicate that there are still areas of concern.

First, the pandemic and its ripple effects have resulted in reports of mental health concerns increasing across the board. A 2015 SAMSHA report on studies of disasters and ensuing stress and suicidal behaviors show there are cyclical features of the survivors’ psychological reactions, if not statistical shifts that have been established. Survivor’s challenging emotions escalate with the threat and impact, then enter ‘heroic’ and honeymoon phases in the immediate aftermath, later morphing into disillusionment before ending in ‘reconstruction’ and a new normal. Due to new strains of the virus and broad and ongoing effects on social and economic structures, it is hard to know where we are in this cycle. We do know that mental health is suffering for many reasons, and the American Psychological Association has declared a crisis in children’s mental health.

Furthermore, this recent article in JAMA PsychiatryTempering Optimism Concerning the Recent Decline in US Suicide Deaths, highlights trends within recent statistics that remain concerning. In particular, the authors reflect on the 35% increase in suicide deaths over the past two decades, with rising death rates in all age groups except those over 75. In particular, rates have shown considerable increases in certain demographics, particularly in males of color. There is also question in the validity of these statistics due uncertainty surrounding many deaths, in particular the increasing numbers of overdose deaths where intent often remains unknown. If even a small fraction of these deaths have been mis-classified as accidental, the rates might shift. Preliminary statistics on overdose deaths in 2021 show a 15% increase, so addressing underlying causes of both of these diseases of despair is essential to saving lives. Looking more closely at the details in the data may point to opportunities for targeted surveillance, prevention, and intervention.

This US News and World Report article raises similar concerns and provides additional insights into underlying characteristics. It highlights that we also need to learn more and remain vigilant in understanding, connecting, and promoting prevention efforts across platforms, communities, and cultural divides.

We also know that after disasters the vast majority of survivors show resilience. Reducing stigma, being gentler and kinder with ourselves and each other, and improving approaches and access to services will help those who are suffering. In addition, we can work on moderating stress and distress through maintaining physical health, prioritizing adequate sleep and nutrition, and calming our nervous systems through exercise, meditation, nature, and restorative breathing techniques. As The Center for Mind Body Medicine highlights, self care is fundamental to health. Signing off now to start some Soft Belly Breathing and hoping your self care is a priority too.