As vaccination rates rise and COVID’s hold on American society begins to wane, many are still struggling with the effects of the pandemic. Efforts surrounding mental health have come into greater focus over the past year, especially on the effects of isolation due to COVID-19.
The pandemic had sparked fears of an increase in suicide rates among school officials and politicians alike. However, those concerns seem unfounded. In fact, the total number of suicides fell in 2020, according to the National Center for Health Statistics but the pandemic’s deep impact on depression and anxiety looms large, and has prompted greater action and targeted focus on these issues and on suicide prevention as well.
Elleni Koulos, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of La Verne, said there has been a steady flow of La Verne students seeking help from the center and saw no large increase due to the pandemic. However, she emphasized the pandemic’s impact on depression and anxiety, the rates of which have increased globally, especially among young adults.
“People have been isolated and away from their support system,” said Koulos. “So it’s definitely had an effect on people and definitely on depression and anxiety,” she added.
While the National Center for Health Statistics’ report seems welcome, experts warn that data may not be reflective of the whole picture.
“It’s not 100% accurate, because there can be, you know, accidental, missed diagnoses of death,” said Tracie Andrews, the clinical program manager who oversees the suicide prevention program for Los Angles County Department of Mental Health. “I think that is a place where we need to continue to have those discussions and brainstorm. I do not know if we will ever be able to have 100% absolute.”
Like many organizations, the county’s mental health department has made adjustments to its programs to better serve in a virtual setting, including adding more internal training and moving its annual summit online.
“I think the thing that has really come into focus is just the importance of connection and making sure that people have that, we have always known that connection is kind of the root of everything,” said Andrews.
Stronger suicide prevention efforts have gained traction among lawmakers in Sacramento. AB 234, introduced by Assemblymember James Ramos, D-Rancho Cucamonga, would establish the Office of Suicide Prevention within the California Department of Public Health. The office would provide assistance and state-level assessments to statewide and regional partners. The establishment of such an office was authorized by AB 2112, another suicide prevention bill which passed in September last year and was also introduced by Assemblymember Ramos.
In its current efforts, the California Department of Public Health received a five-year grant from the CDC to implement a statewide suicide prevention program.
“The grant will allow CDPH to provide technical assistance and data to local health departments in 13 counties with higher rates of suicide, while targeting the most affected, including youth, veterans, and older adult males,” said Matt Conens, spokesperson for the department.
“Up to four local health departments will be funded to implement evidence-based suicide prevention strategies such as creating protective environments by reducing access to lethal means among those at risk of suicide through safe storage practices of medications and firearms and teaching coping and problem-solving skills via social-emotional learning programs,” said Conens.
If are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “LA” to 741741 to the 24/7 Crisis Text Line.
Ryan Konrad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.