Observers of America’s suicide crisis have noticed something peculiar in the past year. Rates of depression and suicidality have surged, likely spurred by the COVID-19 crisis and ensuing lockdowns and economic turmoil. But suicide rates are flat or down across countries, including in the United States, where suicide rates may have actually fallen for the first time in decades.
This outcome was what the data augured as far back as January, as I previously wrote for IFS. The case has only gotten stronger since then: In a review of the evidence, psychiatrist and blogger Scott Alexander notes that suicidal ideation doubled in spring 2020 compared to spring 2018, while rates of depression tripled in late March and early April of 2020. Yet the best data from the CDC suggest that
Predicted weekly numbers of suicide deaths were similar to historic levels in early 2020, then declined from March through June, and remain slightly lower than historic levels in more recent months.
Theories about what’s going on, Alexander notes, have tended to explain the disjuncture in terms of the pandemic—the crisis brought people together, reducing suicide even as it drove up suicidality. But that theory is not only not well-supported by the evidence; it’s also missing a key part of the story.
Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal.
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