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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Some Fear Suicide Rates Are On The Rise. One Expert Says They May Rise, But Not When You Think.

Bart Andrews

A prevalent argument by those in favor of reopening Missouri’s economy goes like this: the longer this shutdown continues and puts increasing financial and social pressure on at-risk populations, the more likely it is to drive them to suicide.

Dr. Bart Andrews is the chief clinical officer at Behavioral Health Response and the chair of Missouri Suicide Prevention Network. He said there’s no data available right now that shows an increase in Missouri. He is more concerned for what comes next.

“We know that human beings don’t evaluate themselves just based on their own situation, they really evaluate themselves based on themselves relative to the people around them,” Andrews said. “That’s why I’m really concerned about this transition point, particularly when things start returning to normal, because it’s going to return to more normal for a bunch of folks. But there’s a group of folks where it’s not going to return to normal right away, and it’s going to look really bad. It’s going to be really painful.”

Andrews says there are five important groups to consider when thinking about the many ways COVID-19 impacts people’s lives.

1.     Nuclear families: Andrews said these are the families where caregivers are still employed and can work from home. He said there are protective elements in this situation, as the caregivers are still employed and maintain regular contact with family members.

2.     Health care providers: Andrews argued that health care providers are under extra stress due to a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, combined with stress from losing patients and going into self-quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus to their families and loved ones.

3.     Essential employees: Employees who have to go to work during the pandemic are at a higher risk of exposure to the virus, according to Andrews, and he argues that they aren’t receiving the same level of support that members of the healthcare community are currently getting.

4.     People who are unemployed/furloughed or who lost ones to COVID-19: Andrews said he is most concerned about this group in the long-term, as this population is facing financial concerns that may grow over time if the state economy opens and they aren’t able to get back to work as quickly as others. He also urges special attention be given to those suffering from the intense emotional toll of losing loved ones during the pandemic.

5.     People who need care: Andrews says people with pre-existing physical and mental health conditions who are receiving care may feel more isolated and face additional challenges unique to their situation.

Andrews said social isolation is a complicating factor in getting people help.

“One of the things we take for granted is that a lot of help is triggered by gatekeepers… as we have less contact with social service agencies, with schools, people aren’t going to the doctor as much. People aren’t going to the hospital as much,” Andrews said. “We definitely all need to have our eyes and ears open and be more aware of the people around us.”

Andrews says to be kind and address the issue head-on if you’re concerned for someone you know.

“Don’t be afraid to ask people and to ask them clearly and directly. ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ This is important. … Be nice. Listen to them, don’t minimize them.”

The phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

Trevor Hook is a reporter, producer and morning anchor for KBIA 91.3 born and raised in New Franklin, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri with both a Master's degree in Audio Journalism in 2020 and a Bachelor's degree in Convergence Journalism in 2018.