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COVID-19 reinforces renewed call to make suicide prevention a national priority

Posted on Friday, September 4, 2020 at 6:15 am

A new national survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older shows that the majority of those surveyed (81%) say that, as a result of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to make suicide prevention a national priority. Conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), and Education Development Center (EDC), the survey data also show 52% report being more open to talking about mental health as a result of COVID-19.

The survey, which builds upon similar surveys conducted in 2015 and 2018, shows respondents overwhelmingly believe suicide can be prevented (93%). While 95% of those surveyed said they would do something if someone close to them was thinking about suicide, most people (69%) identified barriers that keep them from discussing suicide with others, such as not knowing what to say (31%), feeling they don’t have enough knowledge (28%), or not feeling comfortable with the topic (19%). These findings underscore the importance of equipping all Americans with the necessary tools and resources to feel empowered to have conversations about mental health and suicide prevention, and to take steps to care for their own mental health. Additionally, this data points to the critical role technology plays in providing support and services, particularly important given today’s social distancing rules in the wake of the pandemic.

“These new findings indicate that the American people are ready for the nation to take action now to mitigate the short-term, and prevent any long-term, negative mental health or suicide-related consequences of the pandemic,” said Colleen Carr, director of the Action Alliance. “These complex and urgent public health issues require multi-sector perspectives and solutions.”

“Our new survey data indicate Americans are ready and willing to have open conversations about mental health, and they are feeling more empathic (66%). Likely through the COVID-19 pandemic, people are growing stronger in their understanding of mental health and are more supportive of each other. The next step we must take is to make sure that when they try to access mental health care, they are able to find effective, culturally competent, affordable care,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, AFSP’s chief medical officer.

Some helpful ways people can be there for someone who may be struggling or in crisis include:

  • Recognizing the risk factors and warning signs
  • Learning the action steps for talking with someone who might be suicidal
  • Staying socially connected to family, friends, and loved ones
  • Sharing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-TALK), which provides 24/7, free, and confidential support or the Crisis Text Line (text TALK to 741741).

“Our country has never witnessed a public health and economic event of this proportion in recent history. The pandemic continues to take a toll on many people’s health and well-being,” said Dr. Jerry Reed, senior vice president for practice leadership at EDC. “Yet, with challenges come opportunities. This data shows us that Americans see these issues as critically important and that they want to play a role in addressing them. We must take bold steps now to support those who are struggling and to emerge a stronger country.”

To help change the public conversation about these issues and empower Americans with action steps they can take to support others, as well as to strengthen mental health and suicide prevention, the Action Alliance recently launched the Mental Health & Suicide Prevention National Response to COVID-19 (National Response). Working with public and private sector partners like AFSP, SPRC, and EDC, the Action Alliance’s National Response is committed to creating lasting cultural, systems, and policy changes that ensure equitable access to the care, support, and services—both in and outside of clinical settings. In addition, AFSP’s Project 2025 continues to work to reduce the rate of suicide 20% by 2025 by focusing on four specific areas: primary care settings, emergency departments, the gun owning community and correction systems.


The online survey—conducted in July 2020—assessed public perceptions about suicide and mental health. The survey also found:

  • While most Americans (78%) view mental and physical health as being equally important, more than 51% said physical health is treated as more important than mental health in our current health care system.
  • Most Americans (73%) said they are more aware of the importance of taking care of their own mental health during the pandemic, with many relying on positive coping mechanisms.
  • If they were having thoughts of suicide, most Americans (73%) would tell someone, and people select different sources of support including:
    • Mental health provider (34%)
    • Family member (33%)
    • Spouse/significant other (32%)
    • Friend (30%)
    • Primary care doctor (25%)
    • Hotline/Crisis line (21%)
    • Clergy/Faith leader (14%)
    • Social media network (7%)
    • Coworker (5%)
  • Top sources for where Americans go to find resources/tips about coping with suicide—for themselves or a loved one—include mental health providers (50%), doctors or primary care health professionals (43%), hotline/crisis lines (41%), and internet searches (35%).
  • Technology plays an important role in Americans accessing mental health care:
    • 25% have worked with their mental health professional through telehealth,
    • 20% have used mental health apps, and
    • 19% have engaged with another provider through telehealth.