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Kentucky Expert on Violent Death Sees Increasing Impact of Pandemic on Young Adults

Sabrina Brown

COVID-19 has forced people across Kentucky and around the world to drastically limit their daily interactions with others in order to save lives.

In addition to the concern about physical health, the isolation is intensifying a secondary crisis – and that’s mental health.

Sabrina Brown is an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Kentucky. She also works with the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, part of the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Brown co-authored an article recently published in The Journal of Rural Health titled, “Suicide in the Time of COVID-19: A Perfect Storm.

WKU Public Radio Reporter Rhonda Miller spoke with Brown about what she sees as the increasing impact of the coronavirus on mental health. 

Brown points out one red flag was a recent weekend where there were three murder-suicides in different parts of Kentucky - in Bracken County, Jackson County and Knott County.

Brown: That was significant for our suicide prevention group, when that happened. There were no similarities, different ages.

Miller: Why would that be an alert, like a red flag?

Brown: Homicides followed by suicides are the most violent of violent deaths. They are also an extended suicide, according to the scientific literature. And they’re also very rare. We might see three incidents a year, and we saw three incidents in one weekend. So these very violent events happened in a very clustered time period. So that is a sign to us that the violence is escalating.

Miller: It was a CDC report that said that the age group between 18 and 24 has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty-five percent of those people in that group have considered suicide. Basically, how is this COVID-19 pandemic impacting the mental health of that age group, 18-to-24-year-old young adults?

Brown: So in this age group 18-to-24, males and females have similar circumstances preceding a suicide. We would probably expect depression, mental health problems. But then the next group of circumstances are intimate partner problems, physical health problems, other substance problems, that means something other than alcohol, and then alcohol problems, a crisis in the past two weeks, financial problems, family relationship problems. So these are circumstances that are particularly in this age group, with males and females they look very similar. And we can kind of see that unfolding with COVID. We can probably imagine more family problems, more intimate partner problems, physical health problems, not as active maybe or engaging in healthy activities. Maybe more substance use problems, alcohol use, more depression. But you can see these circumstances possibly emerging becoming more and more significant as we continue in this pandemic indefinitely, especially for this age group.

Miller: When you’re looking ahead or alerting counties and cities and mental health people, what would say at this point in the pandemic?

Brown: When someone starts to isolate, somebody who is normally is in contact, just don’t hear from them, don’t return calls, that is a red flag where they need to hear from you. Make sure they understand that they’re wanted, they’re needed, they’re important and you’re there. There’s really nothing you can say that can drive a person that’s in that state away. It’s almost always positive when you engage with someone in that state. I think it’s so important to raise awareness and to talk about it. Let’s work together to try to prevent an uptick.

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