Senators warn of suicide rate increase due to pandemic, suggest more federal mental health funding

'The problem is likely to become more prevalent as the pandemic continues,' U.S. senators warn in new report

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Sen. Stabenow
Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Last Updated:
May 14, 2020 - 3:52pm

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The Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee is warning that the suicide rate in the U.S. could increase as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and offered recommendations on how Congress should respond.

“The National Center for Health Statistics recently reported that the suicide rate across the U.S. increased 35 percent between 1999 and 2018. Experts worry that social isolation, a poor economy and high unemployment caused by COVID-19 could make matters worse,” according to a group's report, published on Wednesday.

The group is led by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, and Joe Manchin, of West Virginia.

“The problem is likely to become more prevalent as the pandemic continues. Unfortunately, it appears that health care workers are already turning toward suicide,” the report also states.

The report cited Lorna Breen, the emergency room doctor handling COVID-19 patients who committed suicide on April 26 and didn’t have a reported history of mental illness.

Stabenow along with fellow group members Sens. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut; Catherine Cortez Masto, of Nevada; and Sen. Tina Smith, of Minnesota, announced the findings of the report on a conference call with reporters.

The senators recommend that “any additional COVID-19 assistance packages must include the funding and resources community behavioral health centers need to serve their patients, both new and existing.”

The report emphasizes the importance of tele-health services for behavioral health as a way of “providing a lifeline for behavioral health clinicians and their patients.”

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act included about $425 million for mental health and substance abuse programs. According to the DPCC report, most of the federal funds have gone to front-line health care providers and "behavioral health providers have been largely left behind in the initial allocations."

According to the report, “to ensure access to needed behavioral health care during the pandemic, tele-health services, including audio-only services where appropriate, should be paid at the same rate as face-to-face visits.”

Well Being Trust & The Robert Graham Center recently warned that deaths from “drug or alcohol misuse” during the pandemic could hit 75,000.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on countries to dedicate as many resources as possible to mental health programs during the pandemic.

“Mental health services are an essential part of all government responses to COVID-19,” he said. “They must be expanded and fully funded.”