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Topic: Suicide Risk

Question: Has there been an increase in suicide risk since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic? What are ways to help people who are contemplating suicide?

Kathryn Gordon, Ph.D., LP

Psychologist, Sanford Women’s Health

Assistant Scientist, Sanford Center for Biobehavioral Research



Expert's Response

Suicidal ideation, or having serious thoughts about killing oneself, has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Situations like financial stress, the loss of a loved one due to the COVID-19 virus, or the experience of “long COVID” put an individual at risk for suicide. However, the actual rate of death by suicide decreased in the year 2020 when compared to the years immediately prior to the pandemic. While there are many possible reasons why, the fact that suicidal ideation is high but suicide rates remain lower may be best explained by increased support between family members, friends, and individuals in the community. I explain this phenomena in more detail in an article published for Psychology Today (follow this link to the article).

One of the most important “buffers” to suicide is having connections with other people. If you are someone who is contemplating suicide, it is helpful to prioritize spending quality time with other people. Be sure to let people know what would be helpful to you - having the space to talk and be heard in a non-judgmental way and receiving emotional support from others can improve your mood. If you are worried that a loved one may be at risk for suicide, make an effort to check-in with that person. Sometimes all it takes to turn someone’s day around is just being there to listen instead of jumping in with problem-solving or reassurances that “everything will be OK.”

Below are a list of other important resources for managing suicide risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. While talking about suicide is often anxiety-producing, know that there are lots of options available for support.