COVID-19 and suicide in the US

July 28, 2020

The COVID-19 global pandemic continues to have an impact on ophthalmologists, their practices and daily life. For patients, there can be additional pressures that are concerning.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic continues to have an impact on ophthalmologists, their practices and daily life.

A study in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, which describes the impact that COVID-19 is having on the general population in the United States, alerts practitioners to a possibly “significant mental health fall‐out in the months and years ahead.”

Issues can impact patients, staff, or colleagues.

“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,” the investigators commented, underscoring the importance of assessing the impact on mental health in addition to demographic data.

The study authors, Kevin M. Fitzpatrick, Casey Harris, and Grant Drawve, analyzed data collected from a national sample that included responses from 10,368 U.S. adults who filled out the Suicide Behaviors Questionnaire‐Revised (SBQ‐R). The investigators wanted to determine the risk factors that affect mental health and how these might affect suicide levels. The information collected included the participants’ fears and anxieties and perceptions about the virus, their social and mental health, and food security.

Their analysis showed that while the average score was 4, such as low risk, and 10% was in the 5 to 7 range, a moderate risk, almost 15% of patients who responded to the SBQ-R scored 7+, which is considered high risk;

Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, families with children, unmarried individuals, those not born in the US, and younger respondents had significantly (p < 0.000) higher SBQ‐R scores than Caucasians. Food insecurity, physical symptoms, and Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression symptomatology were significantly (p < 0.000) related to suicidality, defined as suicidal ideation, plans to commit suicide and attempts at suicide.

An important finding was the while individuals are generally afraid of the virus and the impact on family and community, the fear became overwhelming with the additional of “rising unemployment, limited supplies of household goods, long lines at food pantries, and limited access to social and health-related services,” the authors commented. Specifically, those with moderate or high levels of insecurity about food “are four times more likely to be in the high SBQ‐R category…,” than those with low or no such insecurity, they reported.

The study recommended that current practices be improved and new suicide prevention strategies be formulating to help individuals during public health crises.