How has COVID-19 affected suicidality in the US?

How has COVID-19 affected suicidality in the US?


Written by Tim Newman on July 25, 2020 — Fact checked by Hannah Flynn, MS

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect storm for poor mental health. It has created fear, social isolation, physical distance, financial concerns, and more. It is no surprise this period of our lives has impacted mental health on a global scale.


Share on PinterestA new study takes another look at mental health during a pandemic.

As the pandemic continues, researchers are attempting to quantify the impact on mental health, and plan for a brighter future. The latest study in this vein appears in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

The authors set out to understand what risk factors, alongside the pandemic, may impact adult mental health in the United States, and how these might affect levels of suicidality.

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Suicidality and COVID-19

Suicidality refers to suicidal ideation, where someone thinks about taking their own life, suicide plans, and suicide attempts.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, researchers began noting the potential for an unusually high level of susceptibility to extreme mental health consequences, including both suicide ideation and attempts,” write the study authors.

They continue: “People are generally fearful of COVID-19 and its devastating impact on families and communities[…], but such fear has become entangled with the added burden of rising unemployment, limited supplies of household goods, long lines at food pantries, and limited access to social and health-related services.”

In their investigation in suicidality and associated risk factors, the researchers took questionnaire data from 10,368 adults in the U.S. The 20-minute survey collected information about the participants’ fears and anxieties around COVID-19, attitudes and perceptions of the coronavirus, physical and mental health, and food security.

The poll also gathered information about the respondents’ race, sex, and home situation, for instance, whether they live with children.

The researchers embedded the Suicide Behavior Questionnaire (SBQ-R) within the questions, which assesses four elements of suicidality:

  • lifetime suicide ideation and attempts
  • frequency of suicide ideation over the last 12 months
  • the threat of suicidal behavior
  • self-reported likelihood of suicidal behavior

The responses are coded and generate a score from 3–18, while higher ratings indicate an increased risk of suicidal behavior.

The questionnaire also contained questions from the Center for Epidemiological Studies for Depression (CES-D), which measures depressive symptoms through 20 items.

Finally, the questionnaire captured three other social and psychological variables:

  • how connected participants feel to other people in their social network
  • each participant’s sense of control over their life
  • the importance of religion in their life

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