A rise in suicides was expected in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, but what Johns Hopkins researchers actually found was very different.


In a report analyzing suicide deaths during the first wave of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic in Maryland, Johns Hopkins researchers found that contrary to the projections that suicides will skyrocket during the overall population, suicides instead actually decreased relative to previous years. While, suicide rates increased among Black Marylanders; suicide deaths by Blacks declined in the same period.

The study results illustrate the importance of early recognition of high-risk and vulnerable populations to minimize suicide rates at a community level.

Black was disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic suggesting long-standing inequalities in health and social services. “Looking at suicide trends by race underscores the economic divide we see in America, and unfortunately, that divide is also a racial one,” says Paul Nestadt, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Durst says the increase in suicides among black Marylanders during the period when COVID-19 deaths were at their height and the state was in lockdown may represent disparities in socioeconomic status.

In contrast to the trend in white areas of the United States, the sudden decline in suicides among white Marylanders can be related to their greater capacity to operate remotely or benefit from economic relief efforts.

“I think we’re all in this COVID-19 storm together, but not everyone has the same experience,” he says. “People who are in economically privileged positions have been able to more or less continue working remotely, take time for themselves, reconnect with family, take up a new hobby and so on, but it’s a very different story for people working in service industry jobs.”

The report found that there were over one hundred forty suicide deaths from January 1, 2020 to July 8, 2020.

The data were separated into three periods. First, they were divided into a pre-COVID-19 period 1, a “progressive closure” period 2, and a “progressive reopening” period 3 (May 8 to July 7, 2020).

The daily rates of suicide were broken down by race and compared to the same period in the previous year.

During Period 1, the regular suicide mortality rates for both races remained unchanged from the same period in 2017 to 2019, and during Period 3, black residents’ suicide mortality rate did not vary from previous years. However, annual suicide deaths among American blacks increased 94%, while annual suicide deaths among American whites decreased 45% between 2017 and 2019.

The results of our research “The implications of our findings are broader than just suicidology,” Nestadt says. “It should help policymakers recognize the importance of things like economic relief and increasing access to equal care so there’s an end to such disproportionate deaths.”.

Nestadt believes more study is required to better understand these patterns.

As the current pandemic drives public health agendas, policy measures and targeted resource distribution are required to reduce inequalities in health that impact Black Americans.

Reference, “Racial Differences in Statewide Suicide Mortality Trends in Maryland During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic,” by Michael Johnathan Charles Bray, MS; Nicholas Omid Daneshvari, BA; Indu Radhakrishnan, BA; Janel Cubbage, MS; Michael Eagle, MCSE; Pamela Southall, MD; and Paul Sasha Nestadt, MD, December 16, 2020, JAMA Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.3938 .


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