The Covid Pandemic's Impact On Suicide Among Black Marylanders
December 18, 2020
Given the intense stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns have been raised about rising rates of suicide. These concerns are borne out by data from Maryland, analyzed by researchers at Johns Hopkins and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland, that show an increase in suicides among Black Marylanders during the first peak in infections in spring 2020. Their findings are published this week in a research letter in JAMA Psychiatry.
The researchers analyzed 1,079 suicide records from Maryland between January 1, 2017, and July 7, 2020, comparing mortality in 2020 to that of 2017–19. They found that, in the period between March 5, 2020, and May 7, 2020, when the state locked down and deaths increased, the number of suicides of Black Marylanders doubled in comparison with 2017–19. During this same period, the number of suicides of white Marylanders decreased by nearly half.
These findings underscore the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black Americans and other marginalized communities, as well as the urgent need to address the varied factors that can impact suicide risk—among them, unemployment, eviction, financial difficulties, access to lethal suicide methods, and the death of loved ones. Black Americans are also less likely to be able to access mental health services when faced with these stressors; only 1 in 3 Black people in the U.S. who need mental health care receive it.
Janel Cubbage, a Bloomberg Fellow who is a co-author of the research letter, points to the national tension over racism and police brutality as another potential contributing factor. “There’s been a lot of talk about these two pandemics going on simultaneously. Repeatedly seeing people who look like you being murdered by police or fellow citizens because of who you are is traumatic and has serious impacts on mental health and wellbeing, so I’m curious if that was also a contributing factor.”
In general, she says, “our findings really exemplify the systemic inequities faced by Black and brown people in the U.S. There are interventions that we can put in place, but if we want substantial and sustainable change, then we need to address the systems that are producing these inequities in the first place.”
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