NJ suicides down during COVID, but thoughts of suicide may be up
The coronavirus pandemic, as of now, does not appear to have resulted in a greater number of suicides in the Garden State.
But experts are keeping a close eye on the trend because calls for help continue to outpace typical volume.
"I can foresee a rise in suicide in the future," said Eleanor Letcher, executive director of Contact of Mercer County.
Volunteers for the crisis and suicide prevention helpline have seen a greater number of calls and chats over the past year. Younger people seem to be having a harder time with the lingering crisis than older individuals, Letcher said. Not all who reach out, though, are "imminently suicidal" — many folks just need to vent, and Contact has trained individuals who are there to listen.
"If you're thinking about suicide, please talk to somebody," Letcher said. "It's confidential, it's non-judgmental. Don't keep it bottled up."
NJ Hopeline, the statewide suicide prevention service, has seen a significant year-over-year increase in call volume in every month since April 2020. Around 3,900 calls were made to NJ Hopeline in March 2020. By 3 p.m. on March 31, 2021, the month's count was already at 5,751.
"There is no question that this pandemic has taken a huge emotional toll on many people," said Sarah Adelman, acting commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services. "Since the beginning of the pandemic, Human Services has worked with its partners to lessen that toll."
NJ Hopeline is funded through Human Services' Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Helplines have also been launched for individuals on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight.
"We know that emotional scars can linger long after physical ones heal, so we will continue to help the people of New Jersey recover, physically, mentally and emotionally," Adelman said.
According to preliminary data shared on Friday by the New Jersey Department of Health, the Garden State recorded 636 suicides in 2020. In 2019, the count was 723, and it was 757 in 2018.
DOH notes that because many deaths by suicide require investigation follow-up and toxicology testing, there's a delay in finalizing the cause and manner of death — the number of deaths for 2020/2021 would therefore be considered incomplete at this time.
Preliminary data also show 37 suicides in New Jersey in January 2021, compared to 69 in January 2020.