This month is National Suicide Prevention Month, with National Suicide Prevention Week observed Sept. 6-12. It’s an especially important time to elevate this topic, as COVID-19 is profoundly impacting mental health in our nation. We cannot underestimate our power to help each other by acknowledging the pandemic’s effect, sharing resources, reaching out and talking about a subject most of us avoid.
In a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 41% of adults who responded reported struggles with mental health and/or substance abuse. Almost 11% of respondents reported suicidal ideation within the previous 30 days, according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published Aug. 14. This compares to 2018, when 4% of adults reported suicidal ideation within the previous 12 months. More than 5,400 invited adults at least 18 years old completed the web-based survey between June 24 and June 30. Mental health issues and substance use were self-reported. Of those who said they had seriously considered suicide, there was disproportionate representation among unpaid caregivers for adults, people ages 18-24, essential workers and Hispanic and Black people.
From “Quarantine is a Mood,” an article written by Doreen Marshall from the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, these are some legitimate worries during COVID-19 and the impact that separation from our normal lives is having on our mental health.
- “I‘ve lost someone, and I don’t know how to grieve right now.”
- “I’m worried about a loved one who’s ill.”
- “I’m worried I’ll get sick.”
- “No one cares about me – shouldn’t more people be reaching out to see how I’m doing?”
- “I should be reaching out to the people I care about – but I just don’t have the energy, and I feel guilty.”
- “I have all this time to be productive, but I can’t motivate myself to do anything!”
- “I’m worried what things will be like when this is all over – will life ever go back to normal?”
- “What if I don’t want things to completely go back to the way they were?”
The author explains how each of these statements can be addressed to improve mental health and self-care, sharing strategies to refute irrational thoughts and reassurance that many of us are dealing with these same worries.
Our world has changed, and we are uncertain what our new normal will look like once the pandemic ends. We are all dealing with new and varied stressors as we learn to cope in this environment. Most of us are more isolated and our typical connections to others limited, which are also warning signs of suicide ideation. During this time, it is helpful for all of us to accept that it is OK to not be OK. Reaching out and asking for help is the first step to uncovering undiagnosed mental health issues or increased symptoms of depression, anxiety and/or suicidal thoughts.
Most importantly, we need to create space and allow ourselves to have uncomfortable conversations when we think someone might be at risk of harming themselves. Take time to remind others in your world that September is Suicide Awareness Month. Together we can apply what we learn this month to every day of every year and save more lives.
Suicide Prevention Resources
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) has compiled a selection of web pages and information sheets on mental health and coping with the effects of COVID-19. These resources are a selection from key organizations in the field. We will continue to update this list as new resources become available.
*Note: For crisis counseling and support related to COVID-19, call the Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990) or text TalkWithUs to 66746. For those experiencing a suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), or text HOME to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.
The American Association of Suicidology believes we need to focus on suicide prevention every day of every year. And we can do this by continuously spreading awareness, advocating for research funding, developing innovative and effective treatment tools, being kind, and helping to educate others on things like resources and warning signs. It's time to get involved, but not just this week and not just the month. It's time to make #AAS365 a priority. And it's time to make our efforts count.