Suicide rates increased by 3% in 2022, reaching a record high dating back to at least 1941, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Maryland psychiatrist fears the trend will continue, as the early winter month of December can be particularly devastating.
There was a total of 49,449 suicides in 2022, according to the CDC data released last week.
“The overwhelming sense that the number of people completing suicide is continuing to rise despite a variety of attempted interventions … is shocking, and I think a call to action across the country,” said Dr. Stephanie Knight, chief of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus.
Knight said it is one of the many aftereffects of the pandemic, when government-imposed lockdowns left many Americans secluded.
“In 2022, about half of the people who called in the psychic distress and feeling suicidal expressed that COVID-19 had contributed to how they were feeling,” she said.
She anticipates a higher volume of calls to suicide hotlines and help lines across the country over the next month. She told WTOP that it is a difficult time of year, even when things are going smoothly.
She said financial stressors and interactions with infrequently seen family members, where conflicts can arise, can be the “straw on the camel’s back.”
“The converse of that is for people who may be longing for that kind of connection, but actually don’t have family who they would see at the holidays,” she said.
The 2022 data showed men were four times more likely to die by suicide, and the highest rates were among men over the age of 75.
“Men in particular, who are divorced, widowed, separated, also have a higher category of risk,” Knight said. “Their core supports may no longer be in their lives … that lack of connection is a major element in a lot of people who really get to the end and decide to take that final step. They feel like there’s no hope remaining.”
Whether it is a lack of connection with anyone during the holidays or the added stressors, there are coping mechanisms you can easily turn to if you are feeling overwhelmed.
“Chewing on some ice or putting an ice cube in their mouth or their hand, that coolness actually triggers a kind of like a grounding effect,” she said.
She also suggests to focus on your breathing, inhaling holding and exhaling counting to four for each step.
“That can calm down that fight, flight or freeze response that so many people get trapped in under a high amount of stress.”
She also suggests anyone struggling to call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
“Just having someone on the phone with you to listen to what you’re going through can really provide that connection,” said Knight. “They really can make a huge impact in saving people’s lives in times of severe crisis.”
Editor’s note: This story includes discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. This is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a trained listener, call 988. Service members and veterans can call 988 and then press “1.” There is also an online chat at 988lifeline.org.