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No increase in suicides, drug overdoses during pandemic, UDOH study says

Posted at 9:53 AM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 19:18:24-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Preliminary data from a new study by the Utah Department of Health has found COVID-19 has not caused a significant increase in suicides, drug overdoses or mental health issues.

The study, released Thursday, believed Utah's existing mental health and substance abuse resources may be a reason why.

The data found that drug overdoses for the first 39 weeks of 2020 remained consistent with 2019's numbers, and were lower than overdose deaths in 2018. UDOH also said reported suicide ideation and suicide attempts have been stable. Also, the number of suicide deaths did not increase in 2020 and remained consistent with the past three years.

"We have seen modestly declining suicide rates in Utah since 2017-18, despite suicide rates continuing to rise across the country. And, fortunately, the pandemic doesn’t appear to have impacted our progress," Amy Mikkelsen, UDOH's suicide prevention coordinator, said in a statement.

Governor Spencer Cox called it good news. At his weekly news conference on COVID-19, he noted how resilient Utahns have been.

"I encourage all Utahns to continue to lift each other up and provide the support we all need during these challenging times," he said.

Gov. Cox said the study appears to counter the narrative that COVID-related economic restrictions have led to suicide increases and spikes in illicit drug use. He acknowledged that any loss of life is too much.

On Utah's Capitol Hill, some lawmakers have claimed that suicides were increasing as a result of economic hardships and restrictions.

"I’m personally aware of some suicides that were directly related to COVID and the business closures. So I think there were some," Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said in response to the study. "The great news is they were down, so let’s all celebrate that."

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, who has championed mental health and suicide prevention efforts in the legislature for years, said calls to crisis hotlines went up. But he said Utah did fund those last year.

"Of course it wasn’t on our radar, but it was serendipitous that Utah had already taken those steps," he told FOX 13. "So we were ready when society as whole had pressures we had never experienced in a lifetime."

This year, Rep. Eliason said he was asking lawmakers to fund millions more.

"We need to put additional resources to meet that demand," he said.

If you or a loved one has thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK. There is also an LGBTQ+ specific prevention lifeline via the TrevorProject at 1-866-488-7386.

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