COVID-19 Could Compound Holiday Suicides, Drug Overdoses

State health officials hope to stem annual winter holiday suicide and drug overdose rates that could be compounded this year with the stresses of COVID-19.

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) and Tennessee Department of Health (TDOH) launched ResilienTN this week. The program is focused on strengthening community connections to give Tennesseans “tools and knowledge to overcome the personal challenges they face, watch out for and help those around them, and emerge on the other side stronger than ever.”

Drug overdose deaths rose 15 percent in Tennessee last year, from 1,818 in 2018 to 2,089 in 2019. Health officials say overdose deaths in 2020 are on track to exceed 2019 overdose deaths. Much of these are attributed to illicit fentanyl and psychostimulants, a category that includes methamphetamine. Nonfatal opioid overdoses, especially among adults age 18-44, have also increased in 2020, peaking during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suicide rates in Tennessee were 16 percent higher than the national average in 2018, the most recent full year of statistics. That year, 1,159 Tennesseans took their own lives. Suicide deaths are most common for adults aged 25-64 here. But suicide is now the third leading cause of death for youth and young adults aged 10-24 in Tennessee.

“By drawing attention to the tragic loss of life through overdose and suicide in our state, we are hoping to encourage Tennesseans to draw upon the resilience they have inside themselves, their families, workplaces, and communities to prevent another family from feeling that pain,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams.

Health officials in the state worry that the climate around the COVID-19 pandemic may worsen the rise in overdoses traditionally associated with the winter holidays and could also result in increased deaths from suicide.

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