By Intisar Seraaj
*This blog is in honor of those who have died by suicide, those who are survivors of attempted suicide and who are still with us, as well as, those directly affected by it. If you or a loved one needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more resources.
Every September is National Suicide Prevention Month. The aim is to build awareness and educate the masses for suicide prevention and so we can help others who are contemplating the act.
Since the pandemic began, levels of anxiety, addiction, and suicide cases have been on a major incline. Based on surveys conducted from June 24-30 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “one-quarter of respondents reported symptoms of trauma- and stressor-related disorder.” This is due to various reasons, some of which were pre-existing or non-COVID-19 related. For some, just knowing about the events of 2020 has been stressful, even if they weren’t directly impacted by the happenings. It’s a deeper level of stress for those who’ve actually lost someone close to them from COVID-19, for people who’ve lost their jobs, or for children who’ve been left vulnerable because of the loss of a parent (and they’ve entered foster care) or because their daily escape from an abusive home (i.e. school) has been taken away.
Even before COVID-19, suicide was already the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to a 2017 study by the CDC. The study also found that suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
Everyone is feeling the effects of the pandemic and other happenings from this year, from caretakers experiencing burnout because of extra responsibilities to people who’ve battled with the virus and feared that they may lose their life. Even if you haven’t been directly touched by COVID-19, the “social isolation, disconnection, and the lack of social engagement are all influencing our mental wellbeing.” School-aged children are stressed because they’ve been limited to summer activities and are missing many of their friends. Now that school is back in session, families who don’t have any other option but to send their kid to in-person school could be suffering from the stress of exposing their child and themselves to the virus. There are other families embarking on the journey of virtual school adding extra worry and more duties to family life. There’s also a particular strain on people who’ve been entrusted with the care of others, including grandparents and parents, social workers and case managers, and foster parents. Self-care is a must to maintain your overall health! If you already weren’t doing it, please start now.
Because suicide is such a complex issue with various reasons for suicidal thoughts, it’s tremendously difficult for a single factor to be effective in preventing suicide. Some are over overly stressed due to financial struggles, others aren’t coping well with the emotional and mental effects of COVID-19, and others could be battling pre-existing conditions like depression. Shortened daylight hours during autumn time, and with the holiday season around the corner, it’s a notorious time for seasonal depression and another factor for suicide. So, what can we do to help prevent suicide? We can arm each other with information and pay more attention.
Additional Reasons People Contemplate Suicide
If you know of anyone suffering from these conditions or who meet these criteria, please check-in with how they’re doing regularly.
- People who have incurred traumatic stress like rape, childhood sexual abuse, or war trauma.
- People who currently have or have a history of drug and alcohol abuse. “These substances can influence suicidal thinking and increases impulsive behavior.”
- People suffering chronic pain or illness or terminal illness such as congestive heart failure, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, etc.
- People who feel like a burden to others.
- People who isolate themselves (for other reasons besides COVID-19).
- People experiencing a sense of hopelessness.
What to Do to Combat Suicidal Thoughts
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Stay active. Even a short walk can clear your mind and reboot your energy.
- Get enough sleep. Avoid using your phone or computer in your bed (keep it a sacred space).
- Maintain social connections. Even if it’s virtual, be intentional with your socializing.
- Follow a normal routine as much as possible.
- “Get out and help others. Supporting your community can help you and others heal and see that things are going to get better.”
- Seek professional help from a therapist or counselor, or at least talk about your feelings and accept help from someone you know.
- If you are feeling upset when reading or watching the news, take a break and focus on something you enjoy.
- For those needing emotional support related to COVID-19, call the Disaster Distress Helpline (800-985-5990) or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
- If you’re experiencing a suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Where to Educate Yourself & Learn More
- CDC Division of Violence Prevention – cdc.gov/violenceprevention/
- SAMHSA Disaster Distress – disasterdistress.samhsa.gov
- American Psychological Association – apa.org/helpcenter
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network nctsn.org/trauma-types/
COVID-19, at least in the U.S., might be around for a while. So, the anxiety around this pandemic and its effects also may not subside anytime soon. While it’s critical that our elected officials, business and community leaders, and health professionals work on a solution, we must support each other, as well. Check on your family and friends, watch for the signs of suicide and depression and don’t ignore them, and become an active advocate for your own holistic wellbeing by practicing self-care. Plus, outside of COVID-19, we still deal with various factors that can lead to unhealthy thoughts. So, this information is important for us to always be aware of to help ourselves and others.