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Mental health crisis hotline calls increase in Utah during pandemic

Mental health crisis hotline calls increase in Utah during pandemic

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SALT LAKE CITY — Calls to mental health crisis hotlines have increased markedly in Utah during the coronavirus pandemic even as mental health-related hospital visits decline and the suicide rate appears flat.

That information, provided to KSL.com by the Utah Department of Health, shows a 13.6% year-over-year increase in calls to the Utah Crisis Line in May. In mid-June, Intermountain Healthcare's Emotional Health Relief Hotline experienced a one-week call increase of 20%. It has averaged about 35 calls per day since April.

But other indicators are more positive. "Preliminary reports," the department wrote, "indicate the number of suicide deaths has not significantly (changed) compared to the same time period in the previous two years." It may even be decreasing, a department source said.

While a "small number" of investigated Utah suicides this year may have been directly related to stressors of the pandemic or lockdown — like economic distress — the department says most contributing circumstances seem unchanged from years past.

And the number of individuals presenting at the hospital for "suicide ideation, attempts, and other behavioral health issues" has been "noticeably lower than what we'd expect over the length of the (COVID-19) pandemic in Utah." The department points out, however, that this is "likely influenced by declines in overall care-seeking for all types of health issues."

In mid-April to early May, the health department observed a noticeable increase in nonfatal overdoses in Utah, largely fueled by opioids and heroin. "Overdoses involving any drug have since trended downward and remain relatively stable," the department wrote. Suspected overdose deaths have also been stable, with a slight uptick around the same April timeframe.

Bottom line, the department said, is that the potential mental health impacts of the pandemic are "profound."

"This pandemic is associated with uncertainty and unpredictability, social isolation, economic vulnerability, and other stressors that are also risk factors for suicide and accidental overdose," it wrote. "Nearly half of adults in the U.S. report worse mental health since the pandemic began."

The department estimates that about 25% of Utahns would currently report symptoms "in a range that would be consistent with moderate or severe depression." Before the pandemic, the prevalence of depression in Utah was about 18%.

"COVID-19 will cause distress and leave many people vulnerable to mental health problems and suicidal behavior," the health department wrote. "Mental health consequences are likely to be present for longer and peak later than the actual pandemic. However, the mid- to long-term impacts of COVID-19 are not yet written. If we plan and act now, we can mitigate and offset some of the negative impacts and we can prevent unnecessary suffering and death."

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Additional crisis hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
  • University Of Utah Crisis Interventional Crisis Line: 801-587-300

Online resources

In an emergency

  • Call the police
  • Go to the emergency room

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