You’ve probably heard speculation that the pandemic lockdown measures, which enforce social distancing and reduce income for millions of Americans in service-related and other jobs, will result in a higher suicide rate. The data, of course, is not in yet, but there are some potential clues in the historical suicide data that has been collected in the past.
One possible predictor is income and socioeconomic status; people on the economic fringes have been disproportionately impacted by the lockdown measures, which basically has made them poorer and less able to meet their financial obligations. A 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide rates went up during the Great Recession downturn—and, ominously, the damage seems to have lingered, since suicides overall have been trending higher ever since. Currently, roughly 19 white Americans per 100,000 take their own lives; the number is lower (6.6 per 100,000) for Black Americans. Another study found that death rates from suicide, drug and alcohol dependency have risen by 22 percent among some of the most economically vulnerable, including people with a high school education or less whose incomes are lower than average.
Certain occupations seem more prone to suicidal tendencies than others, and some of these have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. People whose jobs are characterized as business and financial operations—who are largely able to work remotely—report lower-than-average suicide rates 11.5 per 100,000, respectively. Workers in transportation and warehousing sectors, on the other end of the spectrum, have experienced suicide rates of 29.8 per 100,000 workers—and one can easily speculate that the pandemic has not made their lives easier.
Some of the recent focus has been on younger people; suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 10-19-year-olds in the U.S. A 2020 study by the JAMA Pediatrics found that children between the ages of 15 and 19 were 37% more likely to die by suicide if they lived in communities below the poverty level. There appears to be a link between financial desperation and people taking their own lives; let’s hope that the pandemic doesn’t result in more grim statistics.