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Suicides a concern in Illinois during COVID-19 pandemic

In this Aug. 11, 2019 file photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

(The Center Square) – With high unemployment and an economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, some first responders said calls for suicide attempts are becoming far too familiar.

The number of deaths among Black people in Cook County has already matched the total for all of last year. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the numbers are grim.

“The reality is this is a very difficult time in our city,” Lightfoot said. “There are many, many people, before COVID but certainly since, that are suffering from trauma.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported preliminary numbers that show there have been 601 suicides in Illinois so far this year, but that does not include a month-to-month breakdown. There were 1,400 suicides in all of 2019, according to the department.

In Peoria, first responders said they are getting more calls reporting people threatening to jump off bridges into the Illinois River. It happened twice recently, and in one of those incidents, the outcome was fatal. Battalion Chief Jim Bachman with the Peoria Fire Department said in some cases, a senior member of the department, who has encountered the situation many times, will make contact with the person.

“Years of experience in talking with people who are suffering from depression and just kind of listening to what they have to say and letting them know that people care about them,” Bachman said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned the pandemic could be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about the virus and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Psychiatric Times reported once the pandemic ends, the psychological after-effects will likely linger for years to come.

“Historically, increases in rates of severe mental illnesses have often followed in the aftermath of national crisis,” Dr. James Lake wrote. “For example, during the decade of the Great Depression from 1929 to 1929, the suicide rate rose from 13.9 to 17.4 per 100,000.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

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