Suicide and self-harm are, unfortunately, very real issues with a large number of people today. The rates of suicide in the US have been steadily on the rise over the last two decades, and this trend has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having access to effective mental health care is a major component in preventing suicide attempts and fatality reduction, and due to the recent pandemic, this care is sadly lacking. Additionally, the increased stress and isolation caused by COVID-19 safety measures can be devastating to someone’s mental health, and although the pre-pandemic methods for self-care and fostering positive mental health may not be as effective today, there are other options that may be more suited to a socially-distanced world.
Suicide & Addiction
In 2013, there were over 41,000 deaths per year due to suicide, and men are, on average, 4 times more likely to die by suicide than women. That being said, female suicide has increased much more rapidly than male suicide in the last two decades. Between 1999 and 2017, suicide amongst women increased by 53%, while among men it increased by 26%. Aside from the disparity between men and women, there is also a disparity in suicide rates between those suffering from addictions and the general population.
While it may be some time before comprehensive, reliable data is available to exactly measure the impact that COVID has had on suicide rates in America, there has been an increase in drug and alcohol use rates during the epidemic. Suicide and self-harm are much more prevalent in those suffering from addictions. In particular, those with poly-drug addiction issues are more prone to suicide than someone struggling with a single addiction. Coupled with the increased stresses from economic, social, and physical health factors, someone who is battling drug addiction(s) is in a very precarious position right now with regard to their mental health. With addiction treatment centers and mental health services struggling to accommodate the increased demand for care alongside the changing safety requirements due to social distancing, the mental healthcare landscape is evolving, and many people are suffering because of these rapid, although necessary, changes. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Even though the exact extent of the COVID pandemics’ influence on substance abuse and suicide rates is still somewhat unclear, the available information indicates a strong rise in negative mental health episodes and the initiation or increase of substance abuse during the pandemic. In addition, these increased rates of suicidal ideation, anxiety, depression, and substance use seem to disproportionately affect specific demographics. In particular, Hispanic and black peoples, young adults, essential workers, unpaid caregivers for high-risk seniors, and those struggling with previous mental health issues have been impacted much more strongly than the rest of the population. While the interpretation of this data is still being worked out, it seems that several specific mental health issues have seen dramatic rises since the same time period in 2019. For example, rates of anxiety increased about 3-fold, symptoms of depression have increased by roughly 4-fold, and thoughts of suicide have more than doubled during 2020 as opposed to the same period in 2019. 7
Suicide Awareness & Prevention Resources
The ability to find help during a crisis is a crucial aspect of reducing suicide attempts and suicide mortality. Even though the more traditional means may have reduced availability during the pandemic, there are other avenues that can be used to obtain the help someone needs.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255: A phone hotline and website committed to improving awareness about suicide and reducing suicide mortality by providing free, 24/7 access to crisis management and emotional distress advocates and mental health professionals.
National Alliance on Mental Illness: Multiple resources about suicide awareness and prevention measures including the warning signs of suicidal ideation, being prepared in the event of a mental health crisis, and how to find help if you are in the middle of a mental health crisis.
SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education): An advocacy and awareness promotion organization that hosts events, provides volunteer opportunities and is aimed at providing resources for those contemplating suicide, suicide survivors, or those struggling with depression.
Suicide Prevention Resource Center: The name says it all; a wealth of resources to help identify, connect, and intervene in cases of suicidal ideation or suicide attempts.
Suicide Is Preventable: Information to help someone identify the signs of depression and suicidal thoughts, a guide to starting a conversation, and resources to find help.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: A resource center for those who have suicidal thoughts, those who have lost a loved one to suicide, or those who wish to help spread awareness and volunteer to help those in need.
World Health Organization – Suicide Prevention: A guide about suicide across the world, including facts and data, tools for suicide prevention and awareness, and guidelines for providing help in the community.
Live Through This: An organization that aims to remove the stigma of suicide by sharing the stories of suicide attempt survivors. They currently have dozens of people who share their stories with the goal of letting others who may be contemplating suicide are not alone, and that there is hope.
Centers for Disease Control: An article titled “#BeThere to Help Prevent Suicide” provides a wealth of resources for helping yourself or someone else struggling with thoughts of suicide.
Self-harm may not always be associated with suicide, but the logical escalation of self-harm practices can often result in suicide. Self-harm can also take many forms, sometimes very subtle forms that may not be immediately recognizable. Knowing what to look for, what to do about it, and where to find help can provide care and treatment for yourself or a loved one who is struggling with self-harm habits.
Centre for Suicide Prevention – Self Harm and Suicide: A very helpful guide on distinguishing between self-harm and suicide attempts. Includes an in-depth investigation into the causes, conditions, and expression of the two distinct, although closely related activities.
Help Guide – Cutting and Self-Harm: A guide on some of the less obvious ways that people can engage in self-harm, why some people do this, and some ways to find help.
USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work: A guide on self-harm, including demographics and information on the most vulnerable groups and who may be at the highest risk.
Beyond Blue: A guide intended for those suffering from self-harm or the friends or family of those who may be suffering. Provides information on why people practice self-harm, how to provide help, and resources for support.
Child Mind Institute: A hub of links to different resources regarding children’s mental health and self-harm or suicide. Includes resources for what to do if a child is self-harming or if they lost a relative or loved one to suicide.
Mental Health Foundation: Their article “The Truth About Self-Harm” attempts to dispel some of the myths surrounding self-harm, how to identify it, and what you can do for someone who is struggling with self-harm habits.
Centers for Disease Control: An article on self-directed violence and other forms of injury that includes resources for identifying these issues and helping those in need.
Unfortunately, research has shown that members of the LGBTQ community tend to experience higher rates of self-harm and suicide attempts than the general population. More recent research has indicated that these rates are even higher among LGBTQ teens and youth. There may be many reasons for this, but the fact is that LGBTQ youth need effective mental health care so that in the event of a mental health crisis, they have available and accessible help. Below are some resources specifically created to help this demographic that is disproportionately affected by self-harm and suicide.
The Trevor Project: An organization geared towards providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth in America.
Suicide Prevention Resource Center: A national organization that is funded by government grants, the SPRC has a variety of resources for suicide prevention, including a page that provides a variety of resources for members of the LGBTQ community.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline LGBTQ+: A resource center aimed at providing resources for members of the LGBTQ community, or anyone who wants to help spread awareness about an LGBTQ lifestyle, and the unique challenges this demographic faces.
It Gets Better Project: A project aimed to provide connections and resources that showcase empowering stories of LGBTQ youth and adults who have struggled and made it through to the other side.
Human Rights Campaign Foundation: A page entitled “Mental Health and the LGBTQ Community” that provides information and statistics about mental health challenges in the LGBTQ community.
Trans Lifeline: A non-profit organization that provides a crisis line that provides support and crisis intervention services for trans people, by trans people.
Mental health issues are more common among school-aged people than with older adults, and this can already be a stressful time in someone’s life. Having support services and mental health support can be invaluable to someone in this age group who is struggling with suicide or self-harm.
Crisis Text Line: A valuable resource in its own right, the Crisis Text Line has a page specifically about self-harm and suicide prevention that provides resources, information, and increase awareness.
Teen Mental Health: A resource and information page aimed at increasing awareness about adolescent mental health challenges and the risk of suicide.
The Dougy Center: A support organization that aims to provide grief counseling and mental health services to teens or children and their families that have lost a loved one to suicide.
Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide: An organization whose goal is to spread awareness and provide resources for helping teens, parents, or teachers that may be struggling, or know someone who is struggling, with thoughts of suicide.
Texas Suicide Collaborative: An awareness and information organization, their page on “Schools and Youth Materials” has a wealth of resources for teens struggling with suicide.
The Jason Foundation: An awareness resource and suicide prevention organization that is geared towards increasing awareness and providing resources to help reduce the risks to adolescents and teens struggling with thoughts of suicide.
Suicide amongst military veterans is, unfortunately, higher than in the general population. The majority of these suicides occur amongst active-duty enlisted men between the rank of E1-E4 and younger than 30 years of age; the age group that contributed the most to suicides was the 20 to 24 year old demographic. This trend has also been increasing over the last five years. From 2013 to 2018, the suicide rate among active-duty military increased from 18.5 to 24.8 suicides per 100,000 service members. 8, 9
Suicide is also a serious issue when it comes to the family and loved ones of active service members. Both of these groups, active-duty soldiers and their families, are facing serious mental health challenges due to the dangerous and stressful conditions that they are all subjected to while serving their country. It is crucial that they receive the support and help that they need. Below are some active-duty, veteran, and family resources for those who have served their country.
Some veteran-specific crisis lines for those at home or overseas include:
In America: 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 / or text 838255 / or call 911
In Europe: 00800 1273 8255 / DSN 118
In Korea: 0808 555 118 / DSN 118
In Afghanistan: 00 1 800 273 8255 / DSN 111
Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline: 1-800-984-8523 / CONUS DSN: 421-3700 / OCONUS DSN: 312-421-3700
Military OneSource Live Chat: Click the link for online chat, or call 800-342-9647 or 703-253-7599
Veterans Crisis Chat: Support can also be found online anywhere in the world 24/7 via this online service.
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: A support organization for the families or loved ones of veterans who have taken their own lives. They provide grief counseling, financial aid, and case management services for the family survivors of suicide.
Department of Veterans Affairs: Information and Support After a Suicide Attempt: A guide that includes dozens of resources for the families and loved ones of military members who have attempted suicide. Contains a wealth of links and information on different ways that someone can offer care, support, and help for veterans who are struggling with thoughts of suicide.
Healthcare Professionals Resources
Professionals working in the healthcare community have done an outstanding job during the COVID pandemic working to keep us healthy and safe. This has not come without a cost, however, as the workload has been extremely taxing on the healthcare system in America, and the individuals who make up this system. The increased workload that the COVID pandemic has produced often results in extremely long hours and a seemingly endless stream of people needing help. This can, understandably, create a large strain on someone’s mental health.
Just because someone works in the healthcare industry, it does not mean they are immune to the challenges that they help to treat. This includes mental health challenges. Depression, anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide are not unheard of in mental health professionals, and this is even more so due to the increased strain produced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing support and care to these healthcare workers is more important now than it has ever been. Some helpful resources that are specifically geared towards professionals in the healthcare industry include:
For The Frontlines: A project in collaboration with the Crisis Text Line, this is a free crisis counseling service that is for healthcare workers who may be struggling right now.
In the USA & Canada, text FRONTLINE to 741741
In the UK, text FRONTLINE to 85258
In Ireland, text FRONTLINE to 086 1800 280
Project Parachute: A pro-bono therapy service that is offered exclusively to healthcare workers. They provide individual or group therapy to those working in healthcare who are struggling with mental health issues.
Physician Support Line: A service that is made up of volunteer psychiatrists that provides free psychiatric care to doctors and medical students who need help. This is a confidential service and no appointment is necessary; simply call 1-888-409-0141 between 8:00 am and 1:00 am Eastern Time, 7 days a week to be connected with a professional psychiatrist.
Telemental Health Resources
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights has allowed flexibility with HIPAA laws to allow healthcare providers to provide any services that they are able in a virtual manner. When this takes the form of mental health counseling or therapy, it is referred to as telemental health services. These services can be obtained through most if not all healthcare providers, and if someone is currently without healthcare coverage, there may also some free resources available right now through your state or local Department of Public Health.
To get information about government services provided in your state, take a look at the CDC’s State & Territorial Health Department Websites directory.
Telehealth Certification Institute: A directory and search tool for finding telemental health providers near you.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: A search directory for finding mental health providers, both virtual and physical in your local area.
Telemental Health Comparisons: A guide to help compare and contrast different telehealthcare providers to find the right one for you.
WeCounsel: A network of telemental health providers that can help treat a variety of mental health issues or conditions.
24/7 Suicide Prevention Phone & Text Hotlines
These phone lines are available 24/7, 365 to provide help and care in the event of a mental health crisis.
- Mayo Clinic: COVID-19 and the Risk of Suicide
- QJM – An International Journal of Medicine: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Suicide Rates
- JAMA Psychiatry: Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019 – A Perfect Storm?
- Asian Journal of Psychiatry: An Urgent Call for Measures to Fight Against Increasing Suicides During COVID-19 Pandemic in Nepal
- Addiction Science and Clinical Practice: Substance Use Disorders and Risk of Suicide in A General US Population – A Case-Control Study
- SAMHSA: Substance Use and Suicide – A Nexus Requiring A Public Health Approach
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report – Weekly / Vol. 69 / No. 32 August 14, 2020
- Department of Defense: Annual Suicide Report Calendar Year 2018
- Department of Veterans Affairs: Evidence Brief – Suicide Prevention in Veterans