The Hidden Figures

Suicides Outnumber COVID-19 Deaths Among Young Americans

The novel coronavirus strain “COVID-19” hit the United States in early March (though perhaps before then), and since, the nation has seen varying levels of lockdown, social distancing protocols, and vast economic fallout. More than 200,000 Americans have now succumbed to the virus, and over 1 million have perished worldwide. Along with the pandemic, a contemptuous season of political division and civil unrest has contributed to the country’s mental health crisis. While the lockdowns and the closing down of schools and businesses is meant to protect people from illness, the lifesaving strategy has proven devastating in other ways. According to a Townhall article posted in late July, quoting Center for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield, “suicides and drug overdoses have surpassed the death rate for COVID-19 among high school students.” In other parts of the country, such as Walnut Creek, California, hospitals are seeing an influx of patients with self-inflicted wounds.[1] Especially among younger adults, an age demographic that is relatively immune from the virus, mental health is rapidly deteriorating.

Suicide rates have been steadily rising in the United States for the last couple of decades. Experts cite various reasons for this, but it is unanimously agreed that loneliness and isolation play a central role in putting a person at suicidal risk. Economic and social pressures also contribute, among other factors. Without access to usual forms of community, including church services, we are finding ourselves much more isolated than normal. According to an August article from Medical Xpress, “The National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine has seen a 65% increase in calls and emails since March.”[2] Rural communities are also seeing an increased suicide rate, as well as opioid overdoses.[3]

These statistics are worrisome because they reflect specifically on the poor mental health of the younger generation, and national population at large. Suicide is a greater risk to this young demographic than COVID-19, and the numbers are showing it. The suicide rate among young Americans, according to a report from Web MD, has jumped nearly 60% since 2007, and shows no sign of decreasing.[4] It could be that the advent of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have also contributed to the problem. In times of major isolation, social media is seen as a palliative solution, particularly for younger people who use these platforms more consistently than other demographics. Since the beginning of the virus, online traffic exploded exponentially, including social media sites. This may be correlated to increased depression and anxiety in teens and young adults. According to a short report from the Mayo Clinic,

“A 2019 study of more than 6,500 12- to 15-year-old in the U.S. found that those who spent more than three hours a day using social media might be at heightened risk for mental health problems…..a 2016 study of more than 450 teens found that greater social media use, nighttime social media use and emotional investment in social media—such as feeling upset when prevented from logging on—were each linked with worse sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety and depression.”[5]

The Clinic also cited that “social comparison and feedback seeking by teens using social media and cellphones was linked with depressive symptoms.”

With these troubling findings at hand, parents should consistently check in with their teens and make sure their time on the internet is limited. And if you or anyone you know may be at risk for suicide, let a counselor, pastor, or health professional know immediately. This moment of tribulation and trial will not last forever, and we can all play a role in caring for one another as 2020 continues to bring its many challenges.


Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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