Experts fear pandemic could lead to increase in suicide

Experts fear pandemic could lead to increase in suicide

From the Las Vegas Optic

New Mexico continues to have one of the highest rates of suicide in the country, and experts worry the COVID-19 pandemic could cause the state’s suicide rate to increase in 2021.

In 2019, New Mexico lost 515 people to suicide, according to research by the Legislative Finance Committee released this month. And while preliminary data showed no statistical increase in suicides from January through October of 2020, the state has seen an increase in calls to its crisis phone line. The LFC also projects a 20 percent increase in behavioral health needs next year.

Suicide does not have one cause, according to Matthew Probst, medical director for El Centro Family Health. But he said some form of trauma is typically involved whenever someone attempts to kill themselves.

“That’s what it comes down to. Depression comes from a root of educational disparity, economic disparity, substance misuse in the house, violence (or) sexual abuse,” Probst said. “All of those things are the common roots of addiction, suicide, all kinds of stuff.”

Adults over the age of 24 accounted for the most suicides in the state, according to the LFC report, but suicide accounted for 29 percent of deaths for those between the ages of 15 to 24. In fact, since 2014, New Mexico has been one of the top 15 states for teen suicides.

Late this year, San Miguel County lost two young boys to suicide, according to Probst. It’s the sort of thing he and El Centro have worked to prevent through Semillas de Salud, which provides training to area youth to empower them to provide peer health education to others. But Probst said that because kids aren’t in school during the pandemic, it’s a lot harder for peers or teachers to spot warning signs of deep depression.

Addiction and suicide are part of what Probst called the “disease and despairer wolf pack,” and he called COVID-19 the new alpha wolf.

“It’s the new alpha, but all it did was make these other diseases stronger,” he said. “And with the COVID wolf in there, and people locked up (at home), the rates of those other things are also on the increase. It was always hard to identify before, but now what do you do? We don’t even know where a lot of kids in the state are.”