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Greater New Bedford sees slight decrease in suicides in 2020

In a year where uncertainty reigned and lives were turned upside down, deaths by suicide increased in Bristol County but decreased in the Greater New Bedford area.

In general, suicide rates have been trending upward in the U.S. with 48,344 deaths by suicide nationwide in 2018 up from 42,773 in 2014, according to the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. But the city of New Bedford and its adjacent towns saw a slight decrease in 2020 compared to 2019. The area had 15 deaths by suicide last year and 17 in 2019.

Bristol County did not fare as well with an 18% increase in suicides in 2020 over 2019. The county had 66 suicides in 2020 with 54 in 2019.

Rev. David Lima, executive minister of the Interchurch Council of Greater New Bedford, reported on the local numbers in a recent meeting of the partner organizations for Help & Hope Southcoast, the collaboration dedicated to raising awareness and removing stigma around mental health that launched this summer.

“I think Help & Hope helped quite frankly. I think we did a lot,” said Rev. Lima. “One death is too many, but at least that’s something to acknowledge.”

Samaritans of FR/NB executive director Darcy H. Lee reported on the number of calls the organization answered in the month of December versus December 2019 and the topics people raised during those calls. The organization answered 1,329 calls during the month with 60% of them coming in on the local line, she said. Of their total calls, 35% were from new callers versus 16% in 2019, Lee said, a substantial increase.

Samaritans answers three suicide prevention hotlines -- a statewide one, a national one, and the local line.

Topics tracked by the organization include depression, financial concerns, anxiety and stress, relationship issues, COVID-19, loneliness, and grief and loss. Of those, the biggest increase was seen in callers mentioning anxiety and stress in their conversations with 61% of callers last month vs. 51% in December 2019.

Relationship issues followed with 42% of callers referring to them versus 36% in December 2019.

Another significant increase last month came in the number of callers who were suicidal at the onset of their call. This included a staggering 19% of callers in December 2020 compared to only 4% in the same month in 2019.

That’s a 15% increase, said Lee.

“The good news is we only had to call rescue once in December,” she added. “That means the talking and the listening is helping people.”

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