CLEVELAND, OHIO — Many people have put off medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That includes suicide-related emergency department visits, according to a new study.
Cleveland Clinic’s Baruch Fertel, MD, MPA, led the research.
“After the governor’s stay-at-home order we saw a 28% decrease in behavioral health visits that presented to the Cleveland Clinic Health System emergency departments,” he said. “When we broke it down further we found actually, when we looked at specifically those with suicidal-related complaints, a 60% decrease.”
Dr. Fertel and team analyzed anonymous electronic medical record data from 20 emergency departments.
Information from March and April of 2019 was compared to the same period of time from 2020 – when statewide stay-at-home orders were issued in Ohio due to COVID-19.
Results show psychiatric visits decreased by 28% and visits related to suicide decreased by 60%.
Dr. Fertel said it’s unclear if people were simply not seeking care, using tele-health options instead, or if social distancing measures somehow reduced stressors leading to suicidal thoughts.
He said data is concerning and encourages people to seek help if they’re suffering from depression or contemplating suicide.
“Like any other chronic illness, putting it aside can potentially lead to harm downstream and we really want to make sure that if people have mental health issues that are untreated, they should seek help in order to make sure that they get those treatments,” Dr. Fertel said.
Dr, Fertel said people may be feeling alone and vulnerable during these turbulent times.
He stresses the importance of checking in on family and friends who have mental health issues to see how they’re doing.
If they’re struggling, there are many virtual options, hotlines and emergency departments available to offer help.
Complete results can be found in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.