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Talking about Suicide and the Pandemic

There is no question that the coronavirus pandemic and our response to it have had and will continue to have an impact on our behavioral health. As someone who has worked in the field of suicide prevention for the past five years, witnessing the increasing awareness of both mental and public health in our lives is incredible. Public health works because our health is interdependent. We have all been called upon to alter our lives and to make hard choices for the health of others. We have proven to ourselves that these sacrifices matter – that we have the power to save lives when we unite in a common health goal.

What we do not know is how all of the changes caused by the pandemic will affect suicide attempts in the future. However, we do have the power to prevent suicide. Here are four important facts to keep in mind when talking about suicide and COVID-19:

It’s too soon to make predictions…

First, though many have speculated that the pandemic will increase suicide deaths, there is no data to support that theory (in fact, there’s not yet any data at all – it will be at least two years before data on suicidal behavior during and after the pandemic is available to experts and researchers).

A myriad of factors with positive and negative effects…

Second, because a complex mix of biological, social, and psychological factors impact a person’s risk for suicide, the pandemic’s effect is just one piece of a larger puzzle. And even that piece can have positive and negative impacts. While, for some, risk factors for suicide have increased (most notably access to guns as we have seen a rise in gun sales), for many, protective factors have increased as well. With families gathered at home together, parents can closely monitor children and watch for warning signs. With the swift adoption of telehealth, major barriers to treatment have been removed. And as we unite in this common goal to protect ourselves and each other from COVID-19, many have found new strengths and resilience.

How we talk about suicide matters…

Third, we must be careful not to perpetuate myths that get in the way of effective interventions. We don’t know how the pandemic might impact suicide rates, but how we talk about it now makes a difference. Speculating about COVID-19’s potential to increase suicide rates could have a dangerous normalizing effect for people who are already vulnerable. Instead we must continue our work to prevent suicide.

We must take care of ourselves…

Finally, physical distancing does not require social isolation. We must maintain social connections for our own mental health and to support our friends and family. We must talk openly about suicide. Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide does not put the thought in their head. Instead it opens the door for a caring conversation and an opportunity to provide hope and help. We must remember and continue to remind others that help is always available.

If you or a loved one needs immediate support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the word “ACT” to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line.

 

Written by: Meghan Diamon, LCSW

 

 

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