These can be depressing times for a variety of reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some people are socially isolated, others have not returned to work and uncertainty only adds to the stress.

The timing may be good for the new 2020-2025 Suicide Prevention Strategic Plan recently announced by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Development Disabilities.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Georgia, affecting every racial and age group in urban and rural areas across the state.

Nationwide, suicide rates have risen 30 percent over the past decade, while Georgia’s have risen 16 percent during the same time span.

To put the number of suicides in perspective, in 2018 nearly 1,600 lives were lost to suicide in Georgia — more than the number of homicides, fatal car accidents or opioid deaths.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for those aged 10 to 24.

The worst part is these numbers “are just the tip of the iceberg,” according to state officials.

“Research shows that many more individuals attempt suicide than die by suicide, and even more struggle with thoughts of suicide,” said Jill Mays, director of the Office of Behavioral Health Prevention.

“The ripple effect of a single death profoundly affects family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.”

The new prevention plan builds on earlier state plans to reduce the number of suicide deaths.

The data shows older adults, particularly men over 50, are most at risk.

A concern with the ongoing pandemic is the mental health of individuals experiencing social isolation, economic stress, barriers to mental health, illness and medical problems. If they have access to lethal means, they “may be at increased risk,” she said.

Warning signs of suicide include:

• Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself

• Talking about feeling hopeless, feeling trapped or being a burden to others

• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

• Withdrawing or feeling isolated

• Displaying extreme mood swings

“Consider whether anyone in your network might be socially isolated – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mays said. “Talk to them, make a connection, and engage.”

The state is operating the Georgia COVID-19 Emotional Support Line, which provides free and confidential assistance to callers needing emotional support or resource information as a result of the pandemic.

The number, 866-399-8938, is staffed daily between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.

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