In 2020, when millions of Americans were encouraged to stay home due to COVID-19 restrictions across the country, a copy-and-paste chain message circulated on Twitter claiming the suicide rate had increased by 200% since the start of the pandemic. More than a year later, that claim and similar claims are still being shared on social media.
Did the U.S. suicide rate increase in 2020?
No, the U.S. suicide rate did not increase in 2020.
WHAT WE FOUND
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show the suicide rate in the U.S. decreased in 2020 when compared to 2018 and 2019.
A November 2021 National Vital Statistics Systems (NVSS) report confirms the total number of suicides in the U.S. declined in 2020 by 3% when compared to 2019, although it did increase for certain demographics, like some young people between the ages of 10 to 34. This data is based on 99% of all 2020 death records received and processed by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) as of May 19, 2021.
“When the pandemic struck in 2020, there was a record increase in the homicide rate and a continued spike in the number of drug overdose deaths in the country. Many assumed suicide would also increase,” the NCHS wrote on its blog. “But after a 2% decline in suicide from 2018 to 2019, there was another decline in the pandemic year of 2020.”
The NVSS says provisional suicide rates are typically computed using death data after a 6-month lag following the date of death. Final 2021 data will be released at a later date.
SOURCE OF MISINFORMATION
The chain message claiming “suicide figures are up 200% since lockdown” has been spreading on Twitter since at least late June 2020, according to multiple news reports. Many of the copy-and-paste tweets included the phone number to the hotline of a United Kingdom-based suicide prevention charity called Samaritans.
A Samaritans spokesperson told VERIFY while they don’t know for sure where the chain message originated, they confirmed the suicide rate has not increased in the U.K. since the start of the pandemic.
“From the latest data available, which is collated by the Office For National Statistics, we haven’t seen any increase in suicide rates as a result of the pandemic,” the spokesperson said.
By November 2020, the claim began recirculating on social media websites like Instagram and Twitter in the U.K. and in the U.S. This time, the chain message included the phone number to the U.S.-based National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, along with the phone number to the Samaritans hotline in some cases. Many high-profile celebrities like Kris Jenner, Octavia Spencer and journalist Jake Tapper shared the claim or similar claims on their social media pages.
In a Twitter thread posted on Nov. 12, 2020, the Lifeline tweeted: “we’d like to clarify that while @CDCgov reported in Aug. that thoughts of suicide among people in the U.S. have increased two-fold from June 2019-2020, we do not have evidence that suicide rates in the U.S. have risen over the past year.”
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.