The total number of U.S. suicides fell nearly six percent last year amid the coronavirus pandemic – the largest annual decline in at least four decades, according to preliminary government data.
There were 44,834 U.S. deaths by suicide in 2020, down from 47,511 the previous year.
Death certificates are still rolling in, and the number could still rise. But officials expect a significant decline to continue, despite concerns that COVID-19 could lead to more suicides.
Both current President Biden and former President Trump warned of rising homicides amid the isolation and economic hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s hard to say why the number of Suicides has dropped so much, but one factor could be a phenomenon seen in the early stages of wartime and national disasters, some experts said.
In any disaster phase, “there’s a period of heroism where we rally together and put out a lot of messages of support that we’re going to get through this together,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
That has been seen, at least in the early months of the pandemic.
The rising availability of telemedicine services and other efforts to address the nation’s suicide problem may also have contributed, she said.
The suicide rate in the U.S. rose steadily from the early 2000s through 2018, when the national suicide rate reached its highest level since 1941.
The rate finally fell slightly in 2019, down 1.7 percent from the previous year to 47,511.
Experts attributed this to increasing mental health screenings and other suicide prevention efforts.