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Health: Preventing suicide in the COVID-19 pandemic | Opinion



Every day, researchers are learning more about how COVID-19 affects us physically. However, we still have little evidence to describe its short-term and long-term psychological and social effects on people. However, as a new study released in the first week of September warns, nearly a quarter of people in the United States have symptoms of depression. The study says this is nearly three times the pre-pandemic level, and higher than after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Combining this new study with evidence from past events, experts fear this virus may create what JAMA Psychiatry referred to as a “perfect storm” of suicide deaths.

This potential storm consists of chronic illness, physical distancing, economic stress, barriers to mental health treatment, pervasive national anxiety and a spike in arms sales. The months-long looming effects of the epidemic add to anxiety far more than a single event such as a storm or earthquake.

Everyone’s anxiety levels rose. At the same time, normal coping mechanisms such as communicating with your contacts or seeking professional care may not be available. As the pandemic storm spreads and continues, the long-term effects on all segments of our population may lead to more suicides.

About one in every eight emergency room visits in the United States are due to mental health disorders or substance abuse. We have seen a decrease in the use of hospital emergency rooms for acute medical conditions due to the fear of a possible COVID-19 infection there. What would happen to people in mental health or drug crises if they also stopped calling for emergency help?

An increased risk of suicide during major health crises is not new. There is evidence of an increase in suicide deaths after the 1918 flu pandemic and the 2003 SARS outbreak. Economic downturns are also associated with higher rates of suicide compared to booms.

Most of the time, suicidal thoughts come from feeling that you cannot handle a stressful life situation. With COVID-19 issues, stress management can reduce your chances of feeling overwhelmed. Consider these suggestions:

• Take breaks from the news

Make time to relax

• Setting goals and priorities

Take care of your body

• Laugh – read a funny story or a skit.

• Communicate with others

Focus on the facts

• Access to behavioral health services

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help. Our normal daily life has changed so much that even simple things like wearing a mask or waiting in long lines at the grocery store can make us nervous.

For a comprehensive list of professional mental health and behavioral health providers in Lewis County, go to Lewis County Resources is listed on Pages 115-119. Veterans can also reach service providers at the South Sound Virginia Clinic in Chehalis, or by calling the Lewis County Veterans Relief Fund at 360-740-1417.

Experts estimate it will take at least two years before the actual impact of COVID-19 on the national suicide rate is known. Meanwhile, let’s do everything we can to support ourselves and each other to reduce this impact.


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