DOH report says suicides and overdoses have not increased during pandemic


Patrick Jones


The Utah Department of Health (DOH) recently released a report on suicide and accidental drug overdose data in Utah. Though increases in suicides and overdoses increased in other states and nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no significant change or increase in Utah’s cases, according to the report. 


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Michael Staley, suicide prevention research coordinator for DOH, says:

“The number of Utahns who died by suicide or unintentional drug overdose remains high, but we haven’t seen any changes in the number of deaths since the onset of the pandemic in Utah in March 2020.”

This report provides up-to-date information and data on suicide and drug overdoses in Utah, but is not the most comprehensive, says the report. For example, the report says their suicidal ideation metrics are the number of people who went to the emergency department due to suicidal ideation. 

The report shows figures starting from Jan. 2018 through Aug. 2021, with the majority of the report focusing on data for 2021. 

Six main areas were explored in the report, including suicide death, suicide attempt, suicidal ideation, crisis services utilization, drug overdose death, and non-fatal drug overdoses. 

In Utah, there was no change in the number of Utahns who died by suicide since the COVID-19 pandemic began. From March 2020 through June 2021, the number of Utahns who died by suicide remained high, but the number has remained consistent with previous years.


Image: Utah Department of Health


There has also been no significant changes in Utahns who died by suicide between age groups throughout the pandemic. Emergency rooms saw between 80 to 120 patients throughout 2021 so far. 

Suicide attempts and ideation — among those who went to the emergency room — also did not change significantly during the pandemic. While national data reported a 51% increase in suicide attempts among adolescent females — ages 12 through 17 — between Jan. and March 2021, Utah increase follows typical patterns during previous years during the winter. 

Suicide attempts and ideation reported to emergency rooms increased, then fell during the spring and summer months, which also follows typical patterns, says the report.

Staley points to the resilience of Utahns and their engagement with services as reasons for this data. 

“There’s no doubt the pandemic has placed additional stresses on individuals, families, and communities. But the fact is, the vast majority of people effectively manage crises, serious mental illness, and extremely difficult circumstances. The typical response to multiple stressors and crises is resilience and recovery, and we are seeing that in our data so far.”

In terms of crisis utilization, the number of crisis encounters has increased steadily since 2019, continuing throughout the pandemic. The report says this could be because of the centralized crisis line and other expansions in crisis treatment efforts, like SafeUT

Increased awareness of the crisis line led to 2,200 more calls in Aug. 2021 in comparison to March 2020. Below is a graph showing the growth of crisis encounter’s over time.


Image: Utah Department of Health



Accidental overdose deaths and non-fatal drug overdoses remained consistent with pre-pandemic levels from Jan. 2020 through Aug. 2021. The below graph shows the number of overdose deaths per month from 2018 through 2021. 


Image: Utah Department of Health


Though the graph shows noticeable and rapid changes, the report says these month-to-month changes show normal variation. The number of accidental overdose deaths is also consistent across different age groups, says the report. 

Allison Foust, suicide prevention program administrator with the Utah Department of Human Services says:

“We know that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover from suicidal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Together we can make a difference by providing caring, culturally appropriate, and evidenced-based interventions. We can do this by fostering environments that promote acceptance, respect, healing, and recovery.”