World Suicide Prevention Day: Facing a World Altered by COVID-19

    On March 18th, a man in India jumped off the 7th floor of the isolation ward where he had been admitted with COVID symptoms. It’s one of the earliest suicides directly linked to the pandemic. Unfortunately, similar tragic stories all over the world have followed. Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and its message has never been more critical.  

    Established by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), with sponsorship from the World Health Organization (WHO), World Suicide Prevention Day has a simple goal. It aims to increase awareness that suicide is preventable and the steps we can all take to help those in need. 

    The pandemic has brought tremendous stress, anxiety, and feelings of uncertainty to countless people. Whether you’re a frontline worker facing the dangers of the virus daily, or someone who has lost your job, become infected, knows someone who has, or lost a friend or loved one, we've all been touched by the crisis one way or another.

    Understanding Suicide Risk Factors

    It’s not difficult to see why the prevalence of depressive symptoms among American adults has almost tripled during the pandemic. If there’s one thing previous cataclysms have taught us, suicide rates tend to surge during and after a disaster.

    The first step towards solving a crisis of this scale is understanding the factors causing it. Publishing on JAMA Network, a team of mental health experts headed by Mark Regger of the University of Washington outlined the economic, psychosocial, and health-associated risk factors that increase the risk of suicide.

    Economic Stress

    The recession will likely further exacerbate an already worsening mental health crisis. It is a documented trend that during periods of economic decline, suicide rates increase.

    Social Isolation

    Ever since the pandemic started, social distancing measures were front and center in the global public health strategy. Suicidal behaviors are often associated with a lack of social connections.

    Limited Access to Mental Health Care  

    With hospitals and health care facilities concentrating their resources on treating COVID-19 patients and other illnesses, many people suffering from mental health problems have struggled to access care.

    Existing Health Problems 

    With many also delaying health treatment, those with existing medical issues are also at risk of worsening their conditions, triggering suicidal tendencies, especially among older adults.

    Suicide Rate Among Healthcare Workers

    There’s no denying that healthcare workers are the ones taking the brunt of the pandemic. With concerns over being infected and passing it on to their loved ones, shortages in personal protective equipment, heavier workload, and a lot of other added stressors, healthcare professionals need support more than ever before.

    We Can All Make a Difference

    While the risk factors may seem daunting, there are still plenty of ways that we can help prevent suicides. There are also existing tools and technological solutions like Telehealth that you can use to reach out to patients remotely.

    Adopting an unconventional approach like a collaborative care model might also prove to be effective. The bottom line: these are unique times, and we are facing unique challenges. But continued compassion and hard work can save lives. “As we adapt to a world altered by COVID-19,” the IASP says in a statement, “connections with others are vital in ensuring all individuals mental health and wellbeing.”