COVID-19 has touched the lives of all of us in some way. It is important to shed light on the risk factors of suicide and ways that suicide can be prevented, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic may increase the risk of suicide in individuals who are struggling. In this blog, we discuss how isolation, financial struggle and hopelessness may affect suicide risk during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sadly, suicide has become more of a risk for those of us and our loved ones who struggle with suicidal thoughts. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 800,000 people worldwide die from suicide yearly. For every suicide committed, there are at least 20 suicide attempts.
Issues like mental health disorders, failed relationships, financial hardships and unexpected crises are just a few factors that have been associated with suicide. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as of late June 2020, 40% of adults in the United States have said that they were struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse. Out of the 40%, 11% said they were seriously considering suicide.
COVID-19 Pandemic Factors that May Contribute to Suicide Risks
It is safe to say that most of us have felt the impact of isolation during this pandemic. The added stress of being physically separated from individuals can be detrimental to someone contemplating suicide. Research shows that isolation is a main risk factor of suicide. Having to quarantine and be separated can produce thoughts of worthlessness and insignificance. If you have been fortunate enough to quarantine with loved ones, the impact may not have been as severe. Yet even if a person is surrounded by loved ones who care for them, individuals who struggle with thoughts of suicide still feel alone.
Ways to Help with Isolation
Many of us were forced to be separated from friends and family members for many months. If you know someone who has been alone, reach out. Find a way to stay connected to loved ones, even if it’s not in person. Set up group chats or video calls. Do what you can to make sure that you and your loved ones feel supported and have an outlet to speak about their frustrations during this pandemic. Reaching out to show that you are thinking about someone can make a world of difference for a person contemplating suicide. Remember that social distancing doesn’t mean you have to be emotionally distant from others. We are better together.
With national mandates to quarantine and social distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many businesses were forced to close (both temporarily and permanently) and people were left unemployed. Financial instability plagued both business owners and employees who were unsure of when they would receive their next paycheck. The pressure of not being able to provide basic needs for yourself and others can lead to thoughts of suicide. Sometimes the overwhelming pressure to “make ends meet” can become too much, leading individuals to believe their only escape is to no longer be on this earth.
Ways to Help during Financial Struggle
Even when the pandemic is over, financial losses will leave a lingering impact. Find ways to give back to those who are hurting. Financial strain, on top of new found cautiousness to preserve our physical health, can be mentally exhausting. Communities have banded together to help provide basic needs to those who are struggling during the pandemic. If you know someone struggling financially during this time, help them to connect to local resources. Create a list of local organizations that are providing assistance during this time. Find a good support system if you have to navigate the complicated world of unemployment and financial assistance. If this is your first time experiencing financial struggle during the pandemic, it may take some practice accepting help from others. Know that you are not the only one struggling and there is nothing to be ashamed of.
What was initially thought to be a two-week quarantine has led to months of social distancing, illness, death and uncertainty for the future. A lot of individuals I work with have shared feelings of depression and hopelessness while speaking about the COVID-19 pandemic. Feelings of hopelessness is another major risk factor for suicide.
Ways to Help with Hopelessness
Hope, to me, is like a butterfly in a field. It is sometimes hard to see and seems nearly impossible to catch. However, when you catch a glimpse of its beauty, it is hard to forget. I know that things seem hopeless right now. No one has definite answers about how long the pandemic will last or if life will ever go back to “normal.” I understand that being hopeful is an uphill battle for all of us. Yet, I encourage you to find ways to identify hope in your life and help it grow. Hope starts from within. Practice reciting affirmations that promote hope and self-worth like, “I matter. I’m worthy. I’m enough.” Recite it at least once a day. Unplug from negative reports and conversations about the pandemic. Stay connected to positive people who speak life into you. I know it’s difficult to be optimistic but finding glimmers of hope in everyday life can help you make it through these uncertain times.
You Are Not Alone
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, know that you are not alone. Your life is valuable and you are needed and wanted. Suicidal thoughts can be complex and you may find that your loved ones don’t have the right words to comfort you as you are struggling. It is OK to seek help from a professional who can provide you with tools to help you cope with those thoughts. Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program offers online and in-person support groups for individuals who need extra support during the pandemic. Having suicidal thoughts does not have to be the end for you or a loved one. There’s hope. Connect to a professional today if you are having suicidal thoughts. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
April Cox is a permanency specialist II at Professional Family Care Services in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. She is passionate about the mental health of individuals and families and prides her work on providing practical ways to promote mental health wellness. April has a BA in sociology and has worked as a therapeutic staff support, family-based counselor, and drug and alcohol counselor before transitioning to child welfare, where she helps foster children and foster families process past traumas. April is passionate about the arts and spends her evenings teaching dance classes to all ages.