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California doctors say they've seen more deaths from suicide than coronavirus during the lockdown

'The numbers are unprecedented'

Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Doctors in northern California say that they have seen more deaths from suicide than coronavirus during the lockdown.

Doctors and nurses at the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek say that during the duration of the COVID-19 quarantine they have seen more deaths from suicide than the coronavirus.

"The numbers are unprecedented," Dr. Mike deBoisblanc of the John Muir Medical Center in the Bay Area told KGO-TV. "We've never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time. I mean we've seen a year's worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks."

"Personally I think it's time," deBoisblanc of ending the stay-at-home orders. "I think, originally, this [the shelter-in-place order] was put in place to flatten the curve and to make sure hospitals have the resources to take care of COVID patients. We have the current resources to do that and our other community health is suffering."

Kacey Hansen, a trauma nurse at the John Muir Medical Center for 32 years, said not only are there more suicide attempts, but hospital workers haven't been able to save as many patients as usual.

"What I have seen recently, I have never seen before," Hansen said. "I have never seen so much intentional injury.

"They intend to die," Hansen said. "Sometimes, people will make what we call a 'gesture.' It's a cry for help. We're just seeing something a little different than that right now. It's upsetting."

John Muir Health released a statement endorsing California's stay-at-home order, while also supporting employees voicing their opinions on the coronavirus pandemic:

John Muir Health has been, and continues to be, supportive of the Shelter-in-Place order put in place by Contra Costa County Health Services to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We realize there are a number of opinions on this topic, including within our medical staff, and John Muir Health encourages our physicians and staff to participate constructively in these discussions. We all share a concern for the health of our community whether that is COVID-19, mental health, intentional violence or other issues. We continue to actively work with our Behavioral Health Center, County Health, and community organizations to increase awareness of mental health issues and provide resources to anyone in need. If you are in a crisis and need help immediately, please call 211 or 800-833-2900 or text 'HOPE' to 20121 now. We are all in this together, and ask the community to please reach out to anyone who you think might be in need during this challenging time. Thank you.

The Contra Costa County Crisis Center said their free suicide hotline had received more calls than usual, but not a dramatic increase.

"I think people have found themselves disconnected from the normal supportive networks that they have, churches and schools and book clubs, you name it," Contra Costa Crisis Center Executive Director Tom Tamura said. "And that, coupled with the closure of some counseling services, people were maybe in a little bit of shock. They were trying to weather the storm a bit but as that isolation has grown people have come to realize this isn't a sprint, it is marathon."

In Knox County, Tennessee, there was a spike of suicides in late March. In six days, 10 people committed suicide, nine of them within 48 hours, according to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.

Misty Leitsch, Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network executive director, said there was a 62% increase in conversations through the crisis text line in March compared to the previous year.

"All of the crisis call centers in Tennessee are experiencing a spike in the number of calls," Leitsch told WTVF last month. "I think we're going to see numbers continue to grow unfortunately and I don't think it'll be immediate. I think the long-term effects of the COVID-19 are going to be devastating."

A study by public health group Well Being Trust warned that as many as 75,000 Americans could die because of "deaths of despair" brought on by drug or alcohol abuse and suicide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Unless we get comprehensive federal, state, and local resources behind improving access to high-quality mental health treatments and community supports, I worry we're likely to see things get far worse when it comes to substance misuse and suicide," Well Being Trust's Chief Strategy Officer Dr. Benjamin F. Miller told CNN.

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