09:35 AM

The Number of People Considering Suicide Is Surging. Here’s What You Need to Look for and Know.



Find out how to show loved ones there’s a better way out of their crisis.

By Thomas Vincz, Public Relations Manager

The stress, anxiety and social isolation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to an explosion in the number of people reporting thoughts of taking their own life.

A stunning one-quarter of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 say they've considered suicide in the past month, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Caregivers and essential workers also said they thought about suicide at a rate much higher than average. Populations of color also have higher rates of suicidal thoughts than the average.

Having suicidal thoughts often precedes suicide attempts. Death by suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second among people 10 to 34 years old. Many people have suicidal thoughts. It can be scary to have these thoughts – and equally painful and shocking to hear someone you care about say they want to end their life.

To help prevent suicide, it’s important to recognize the warning signs. People in distress may give voice to their suicidal thoughts, using such phrases as “I won’t be bothering you much longer” or “You’ll be better off without me around.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends also looking for these behaviors:

  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and community
  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

In fact, research has found that 46 percent of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition; the actual figure is likely much higher when accounting for undiagnosed conditions. In the recent CDC survey, about 31 percent of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, and about 26 percent said they had trauma and stress-related disorder because of the pandemic.

Another 13.3 percent of respondents said they have used alcohol and prescription or illicit drugs to manage their stress.

How to offer the right support at the right time

It’s been said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. With the right support, people thinking about suicide can find different ways of dealing with their problems.

It can start with a conversation, but these conversations aren’t easy to start. “There is tremendous stigma around suicide,” said Kevin Lynch, President and CEO of the Quell Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing the number of suicides of people living with mental health illness. “People don’t want to be judged for having a mental health illness.”

While many younger people feel comfortable discussing their mental health with friends, the same can’t be said for older adults. “For older generations, thinking about suicide is viewed as weakness. We’re told to ‘walk it off.’ But that’s not possible,” said Lynch.

In some cultures, it is especially hard for men and boys to talk about feelings. The cultural message is to “man-up” and “be strong” rather than express emotions. We need to help all communities change that narrative to embrace the reality that real people experience problems like anxiety and depression.

Friends and family members may also feel unprepared for these conversations and unsure of how to help.

To begin, Lynch recommends talking from a position of hope and empathy. “The most important thing is to listen. They’re not asking you to solve their problem,” said Lynch. “You’re not there to place blame or try to equate yourself with their story.”

Here are some additional ways that NAMI suggests you can offer support:

  • Talk openly and honestly, even asking questions like, “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
  • Calmly ask simple and direct questions such as,“Can I help you call your psychiatrist or find a mental health professional?”
  • Don’t argue, threaten, raise your voice or debate whether suicide is right or wrong
  • Remove means such as guns, knives or prescription drugs they don’t need

Hearing others discuss their personal stories can help people overcome the stigma of mental health issues, helping to reduce suicides. For example, the Quell Foundation created a documentary, Lift the Mask, that portrays a diverse group of people sharing their experiences and struggles.

“We try to put a face to mental illness,” Lynch explained. “The important thing to know is that no one chooses to have a mental illness; it’s something that happens to them.”

Resources for those in need

Some people thinking about suicide may find it more helpful to talk with a person they don’t know.

For example, they can find support from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support 24/7. Just call 1-800-273-8255. Or you can text HOME to 741741 to reach a counselor at the Crisis Text Line.

Because so many people who consider suicide do have mental health problems, they may need to see a mental health professional to help treat their depression, anxiety or trauma.

After all, suicidal thoughts are only a symptom — they can be treated and improve over time with the right help. However, finding a qualified therapist can be a challenge.

According to Lynch, about 77 percent of counties in the U.S. suffer from a shortage of mental health providers. “That means there’s less than one mental health provider for every 30,000 people. Compare that to a shortage of primary care physicians, which is defined as one per 3,500,” said Lynch. “That’s an unbelievable figure when you think there are about 48,000 people who die by suicide each year in the U.S.”

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ) is committed to expanding access to treatment for mental health and substance use disorder. Horizon BCBSNJ members have several ways to find qualified care:

However you or your loved ones seek care, there are more people than you realize by your side.

Check out the trailer for Lift the Mask from the Quell Foundation.