Alemi Researches Connection Between COVID-19 and Suicide Among Essential Workers

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Study aims to offer evidence-based policy recommendations for improving mental health and preventing suicide in essential workers.

Farrokh Alemi, professor of Health Administration and Policy, is working on a new study to identify a connection between COVID-19 and suicide among essential workers. The project is led by Yunyu Xiao at Cornell University. The team is studying how gender, racial/ethnic, medical history, and socioeconomic status affected suicide patterns and whether COVID-19 contributes to suicide beyond what might be expected from these factors. The study is focused on essential workers in food, hospitality, and public transportation work sectors in 2020.

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Farrokh Alemi 

The team hypothesizes that essential workers had higher rates of suicide and related adverse health outcomes than other occupations and that there were outcome disparities among workers based on gender and/or race/ethnicity. COVID-19 restrictions, pre-existing medical conditions, and social determinants of health may have played a part in increasing suicidal thoughts and actions; however, for employees who obtained support from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, the study is examining whether they had fewer suicide-related thoughts or actions.

The results of the study will contribute to evidence-based policy recommendations in a real-world setting. The team plans to offer a public health framework with targeted mitigation strategies, medical interventions, and other recommendations to reduce sociodemographic disparities in suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic for patients, essential workers, and health care systems. The study is funded by the Gates Foundation, the Healthcare Cost Institute, and Cornell University, with whom the team is working.

“We seek to build research-policy and public-private collaborations to advocate for more equitable policies for improving mental health and preventing suicide among essential workers,” says Alemi.

Previously, Alemi has studied social determinants of suicide in veterans. He has organized to provide data science-supported advice on the selection of antidepressants. Additionally, he and principal investigator Xiao are collaborating on a grant to examine suicide among transgender youth. And both are part of Tuesday Meetings on Suicide, a group of researchers across seven universities who have met biweekly on Tuesdays since March 2019 to discuss research on suicide.

The research team includes Xiao, Alemi, Julian Chun-Chung Chow from the University of California, Berkley, Fei Weng from Weill Cornell Medical College, and Paul Siu Fai Yip from the University of Hong Kong. The retrospective, observational, matched case-control study is officially titled “COVID-19 Syndemics and Suicide Among Essential Workers: How the CARES Act Influenced the Trends.” The team expects to complete the study in the spring of 2022.

Learn more about Dr. Alemi and his research on his profile.