Suicide rates during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are incomplete, and some professionals are unsure what the future will hold, but they do know more work needs to be done to improve mental health in America.  

Dr. Mike Alvarez presented his research on mental health and suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of online communities on April 16, saying that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the improvement of mental health and suicide rates but he is hopeful when looking forward.  

Alvarez has a Ph.D. in communication and is also a postdoctoral diversity and innovation scholar at the University of New Hampshire. He studies mental health, and since the start of the pandemic, has additionally studied its impact. He is also the lead author of an upcoming book on the pandemic titled, “A Plague for Our Time: Dying and Death in the Age of Covid-19,” as well as the author of the recently published book, “The Paradox of Suicide and Creativity: Authentications of Human Existence.” 

“We’ve been in the pandemic for a year now and it begs the question, have projections of increasing suicide rates actually come to fruition?” said Alvarez.  

Alvarez reported a decrease in suicides in 2020 but said that the data might not be fully accurate across the board.  

“Although rates as a whole may have gone down, studies with local communities have seen there’s an uptick of suicide in communities of color in the year 2020,” Alvarez said.  

Alvarez said that suicide is still the eleventh leading cause of death in America and it’s unknown how the pandemic will continue to affect everyone once it’s over.  

“The ripple effects of the pandemic on the economy, on people’s personal and social identity and mental health is still unknown now and in the near foreseeable future and in the years to come,” said Alvarez,  “So we don’t have the full picture yet, what we have is an uncertain picture but a picture that’s not without hope.”  

Alvarez studied an online suicide forum for his research and got to read what the people on that platform were saying about the pandemic. The Suicide Forum is completely anonymous for the protection of the users.  

When talking about the pandemic one user said, “It’s like a massive flood came when you’ve lived most of your life with gills instead of lungs.”  

Life after the pandemic remains uncertain and Alvarez says mental health resources need to improve in order to move ahead.  

Professor of Communications Sheila McNamee spoke during the Q&A section of Alvarez’s presentation and raised questions about the impact of these studies on the future.  

“Are we going to learn anything from this?” said McNamee.  “What do you see as the future, because we really need to have more communal, relational forms of connecting and supporting one another, and it’s an upward battle so I’m wondering if you have hope?”  

Alvarez said that self-care needs to be thought of relationally throughout, meaning identifying external factors for patients and working with them on all factors that impact them.  

“We need to be vigilant,” said Alvarez, “ it’s good to be hopeful but we also need to temper our hope with some realism that things aren’t going to immediately go back to normal and therefore we need to have measures in place for how we’ll deal with consequences of that on people’s mental health.”  

Photo courtesy of the University of New Hampshire.