Bay Area doctors seeing more suicides during coronavirus stay-at-home order

Suicides in one Northern California community are outpacing deaths related to the coronavirus amid a shelter-in-place order that has possible mental health implications, doctors said.

Most of the suicides have been younger people dealing with unprecedented levels of stress related to job loss and loneliness in the midst of several months of quarantine measures, according to health workers at the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, located 25 miles east of San Francisco.

"Socialized isolation has a price," Kacey Hansen, a trauma nurse at the hospital, told KGO-TV. "They intend to die. 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."

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Researchers have found the pandemic has affected the mental health of many, but especially teenagers and children. Young people who were diagnosed with ADHD for the first time rose 66 percent during March and April, while 41 percent of patient visits among children and teenagers also involved discussion of depression, according to Athenahealth.

The Walnut Creek hospital has seen a sharp uptick in suicides that coincide with a Contra Costa County shelter-in-place order to combat the coronavirus. The hospital did not reveal how many people have taken their own lives, but one doctor told the news outlet the figure is "unprecedented."

"We've never seen numbers like this in such a short period of time," Dr. Mike deBoisblanc said. "I mean, we've seen a year's worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks."

The Contra Costa County Crisis Center said calls to the hotline are up, but not dramatically.

"I think people found themselves disconnected from the normal social supportive networks that they have -- churches, schools, book clubs -- you name it," Tom Tamura, executive director of the crisis center, told the station. "Generally speaking, the vast majority of people say they feel better after they call and get the resources they need."

DeBoisblanc said he thinks it's time for officials to reopen the county in an effort to address the mental health implications of prolonged isolation.

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"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," he said. "We have the current resources to do that and our other community health is suffering."