At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, some media outlets and mental health experts warned of a coming wave of increased suicide risks. Now, with more than a year and a half of the pandemic behind us, we can take stock: Have suicide attempts really skyrocketed? And what can we do as clinicians to make sure that people who are experiencing thoughts of suicide get the help they need?
The Big Picture
Overall, the news on this front is good: A recent review from The Asian Journal of Psychiatry reports that, fortunately, suicide rates likely stayed the same or perhaps even decreased during the first year of the pandemic. Another international analysis published in The Lancet reached a similar conclusion.
While the mental health impacts of the pandemic remain real and worrisome (especially as the course of the pandemic itself continues to evolve), it seems that, so far, we don’t have reason to believe that suicide is on the rise.
Populations Vulnerable to Suicide Risks
However, it’s still essential that we remain alert to signs of suicidality in the our patients, in particular those from groups who may be at higher risk for suicide. For example, that same report notes that some research indicates that the risk of suicide among women may have declined less than among men or increased slightly.
What’s more, we already know from previous research that people with any kind of eating disorder are more likely than the general population to attempt suicide. It’s important to recognize that, especially given the ongoing stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, suicide remains a real risk among the patients that we serve.
How We Can Help
1. Know the warning signs. Keeping an eye out for warning signs among our patients can make a big difference. Warning signs that someone may be considering suicide include:
- Talking about wanting to die or saying that others would be better off without them
- Extreme anxiety, sadness, anger, and/or mood swings
- Making a plan to die or looking for ways to do so
- Becoming isolated from loved ones, saying goodbye, or giving away possessions
- Major changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Using drugs or alcohol more or engaging in other risky behavior
Learn more about warning signs and risk factors for suicide.
2. Screen for suicidality. We don’t need to wait for warning signs to show up before taking action. Adding routine screenings for suicidality to our intake procedures and regular treatment plans can catch early signs and help us support patients who may be struggling.
3. Don’t be afraid to bring it up. Sometimes people are afraid to talk about suicide because they think it will make the person they’re talking to more likely to consider suicide, but the opposite is actually true. Research shows that talking openly about suicide actually decreases the risk of attempting suicide. So if you’re concerned, start by opening the conversation—even if it’s uncomfortable.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss treatment options.