Clackamas County: No Increase in Suicides Connected to Pandemic

Despite the very real mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and associated lock-downs, Clackamas County — fortunately — has not seen an increase in the number of suicides since March 2020.

The information came from Clackamas County Prevention Coordinator Galli Murray, during a recent interview on our podcast, Now Hear This: Canby.

“There are people who have said, you know, ‘We’ve had as many suicides as we’ve had Covid deaths,'” Murray said. “There’s lots of misinformation out there. But it’s very important for people to know that the rate of suicide has not gone up as a result of the pandemic.”

Overall, the rate of suicide in Clackamas County, and across the state, had been trending upward before the pandemic, and those trends have continued, Murray confirmed.

What has not been seen is an even greater increase in the number of suicides — or what some might describe as an “epidemic” within the pandemic — that could be linked to economic depression, isolation and other factors stemming from coronavirus restrictions.

The most recent data from the Oregon Health Authority actually shows a markedly lower number of suicide deaths statewide in 2020 compared to 2019 — though the report noted mortality data is still being processed and numbers for the most recent months are subject to change.

“I think people are wanting to connect deaths from suicide and the pandemic, and that’s not accurate,” Murray said. “Please know that people are dying. It’s not that people are not dying, and one death is way too many. But at this point, there’s not a direct connection.”

This is not to say that the pandemic has been in any way helpful to the mental health of Clackamas Countians, Murray stressed. The county’s behavioral health and mental wellness clinics have been open throughout the pandemic, and they have been providing critical services — remotely and in-person.

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“People are really struggling,” she said. “We’re seeing depression. We’re seeing anxiety. We’re seeing thoughts of suicide. We’re hearing stories of people losing their jobs, people getting sick, people getting Covid, people dying from Covid. We’re hearing those stories regularly, and we’re trying to support people.”

Of particular concern to many is the plight of children, teens and young adults — who have faced many of the same stressors as adults in terms of loss of normalcy and loss of support networks — with fewer coping tools at their disposal.

“We’re seeing a lot of young people really feel disconnected from their community,” Murray said. “You know, school is a protective factor. It’s not only a place to get educated, it’s also a place where you get to see your friends and supportive adults. You get to engage in activities that can give you some joy.”

While Murray said she believes schools have been doing an “amazing job” trying to support students and provide a similar quality of education through distance learning, there are simply some things that Zoom will never be able to replace.

“We have heard a lot of young people say they miss the everyday things: walking down the hall, seeing friends, gathering in the lunchroom,” she said. “It’s the small things like that people are really longing for right now, because those were the things that really help promote connection.

“And when we look at suicide prevention, we’re looking at ‘How do we promote connection?'”

If you’re not feeling OK, or need support for yourself or a loved one, call the confidential, 24/7 Clackamas County Crisis Line at 503-655-8585, or text HOME to 741741. More info at crisistextline.org/texting-in.

Hear more from Clackamas County Suicide Prevention Coordinator Galli Murray in Episode 238 of Now Hear This: Canby, “Looking Up”:

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