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U.S. suicide rates dropping; CDC credits tele-health services

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DULUTH, MN -- The national suicide rates are dropping according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and they credit that to many providers now being just a phone call or virtual visit away.

Based on preliminary data from the CDC, the nation's suicide rate dropped 6% in 2020.

That's the biggest decline in almost four decades. The highest rate was back in 1941.

Essentia Health Division Chair for Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Dr. Steven Sutherland says, "I think the tele-health is having a huge impact when it comes to interacting with people and the mental health struggles."

The U.S. saw suicide rates climb from the early 2000's to 2018. But lately, that trend has changed.

"It's the third consecutive year where we're somewhere in that 5-6% decline each year," added Sutherland. "We happen to be in sort of post disturbing peak of a phase of three years after what will hopefully be an ongoing trend."

Essentia Health started largely using tele-health services in March 2020.
They've surpassed 400,000 tele-health appointments since then; 80% of those appointments were for mental health.

In Cloquet, the Community Memorial Hospital has seen an increase in patients using tele-health appointments for all types of care.

"There are times where physical therapy, cardiac rehab, speech and occupational therapy, and others were able to make use of that," said Rick Breuer, CEO and Administrator for the hospital.

Northland health experts say tele-health has become a new form of care they aim to continue in the future.

"This is a great option for them, whether there's physical challenges, behavioral challenge, other things like that," added Breuer. "I think virtual health and tele-health has a role to help those people get better access to care."

Meanwhile, Sutherland says while there was a steady decline in suicide rates there's concern that people may have coped with the pandemic in other dangerous ways, which could lead to higher death rates in other categories.

"This is not just suicide, but people who die from drug overdoses. Particularly, famously opioids," he says. "Deaths related to complications to alcohol abuse, those numbers have actually climbed during the course of the pandemic."

Many addictions related organizations also offered virtual visits during the pandemic.

There is currently bi-partisan legislation in the Minnesota House and Senate that could allow for more permanent tele-health services for Minnesotans all across the state.

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Emma Quinn

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