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Annual number of adult suicide is increasing due to pandemic, other environmental factors, psychologists say

CHICAGO (CBS) — May is Mental Health Awareness month and it has been tough and emotional for a lot of us. Beyond the tragedy in Texas, the pandemic and other factors have strained adults.

There is concern that it may be reflected in the number of suicides over the past two years. CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra shows us how the work continues in helping find other ways to cope.

“My mom and I were born in India but we were raised in two different cultures.”

Dimple Patel’s family story is one of starting a new life in a new country and of challenging cultural norms.

“She was raised in the east, I was raised in the west and there’s such a difference in how mental health is approached.”

Her mother Bahavna was a phenomenal cook, a fashionista, and struggling in a way that was hard to know. In 2011 she died by suicide when Dimple was just 23. It was another four years before Dimple could share about it publicly, as she did in a Facebook post.

“I kind of say it’s my coming out story, the sense of talking about what this meant to me,” she said. 

Those candid stories remain important, according to Chicago Clinical Psychologist Edmond Yomtoob.

“A thousand people a year die by suicide annually, and that number is probably going up,” he said. 

Those are the national numbers, but here in Illinois in 2020, suicide was the sixth leading cause of death for ages 35-54. The 12th for 55 to 65 and 19th leading cause for those over 65.

Yomtoob estimates mental illness plays a role in 90 percent of suicides, but environmental factors impact adults too.

“We’re inclined to see people struggling with different forms of loss, whether it be death of friends, spouse, loved ones, loss of profession, they might not be working anymore,” he said. “The other real warning factor with older adults is isolation.”

The pandemic’s made that even more of a problem over the last two years. So checking on loved ones is important to do. Watch for changes in behavior, and don’t be afraid to address it.

“Even if somebody’s not saying I’m suicidal, say why don’t you talk to somebody, why don’t you talk to a mental health professional,” Yomtoob said. 

Dimple Patel didn’t get that opportunity with her mother, but she’s made being a resource her life’s work. She’s now a license-eligible psychologist, working with a focus on south Asians and other minorities. Dimple is now proud to share her mother’s story, knowing it may help anyone who hears it.

“She came and built a life for herself even not knowing anything and I think a lot of the traits I get from her is that resiliency,” she said. 

Patel’s first act of advocacy was walking in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s ‘Out of the Darkness’ walk.

It’s happening again this fall. More information on the walk can be found here

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