In fact, doctors won’t know for many months if suicide is spiking in 2020; each death must be carefully investigated to determine its cause. The rolling impact of Covid-19 on these rates give scientists a sense of how extended uncertainty and repeating undercurrents of anxiety affect people’s will to live.
“It’s a natural experiment, in a way,” said Matthew Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard. “There’s not only an increase in anxiety, but the more important piece is social isolation.” He added, “We’ve never had anything like this — and we know social isolation is related to suicide.”
The earliest signs of whether the pandemic is driving up suicides will likely emerge among those who have had a history of managing persistent waves of self-destructive distress. Many of these people, who number in the millions worldwide, go through each day compulsively tuned to the world’s casual cruelties — its suspicious glances and rude remarks — and are prone to isolate themselves, at times contemplating a final exit plan.