Even without a pandemic, suicide rates are difficult to track with precision. But early indicators suggest that the problem has worsened — especially among the elderly — as we struggle with COVID-19 and its economic and social consequences.

Suicides in America have steadily increased, by about 1,000 a year, since 2003.  Before the pandemic, the nation’s suicide rate already had reached the highest level since World War II.

And with lock downs and social distancing often leading to social isolation, the mental health effects of the pandemic have been severe. An alarming Centers for Disease Control study released this month found that 40% percent of American adults said they had struggled with mental health or substance abuse in June.

A 2001 study by Jane Dutton, an organizational psychologist at the University of Michigan, demonstrated how small interactions can have a significant impact on how people value themselves.

Dutton interviewed janitors, who are often overlooked and disrespected, at a hospital in the Midwest. She found that even brief negative interactions — such as giving a command without a “please,” or ignoring these essential workers entirely — made the janitors feel unappreciated. They also felt that their lives were less valuable.

Conversely, small acts of consideration improved the janitors' self image. “They look at you like a person, you know?” said one janitor at the recollection of patients who greeted him as he entered a room.

Read the full article at the Detroit Free Press.