September is National Suicide Awareness Month. While this is always an important time to recognize that suicide is a real yet preventable problem in the United States, it is more essential than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has significantly altered daily life for everyone, but some groups have been hit harder than others. Specifically, essential workers, adult caregivers, and BIPOC-identifying people have had increased feelings of stress, helplessness, and suicidal ideation according to a June study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, one in four young adult workers between ages 18-24 had reported seriously considering suicide in June of 2020.
As the pandemic has unfolded, many individuals have felt increasing responsibilities along with a greater loss of control over the world around them. For example, financial stress has only increased as it’s become more difficult to sustain employment and survive off dwindling social support from federal and local governments. Other factors driving an increase in suicidal ideation include loss of traditional social interaction, exposure to various forms of abuse at home, lack of healthcare resources, and uncertainty about the future.
What You Can Do
If you have experienced suicidal thoughts during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to feel helpless and isolated. But remember that you are not alone in your feelings. More importantly, there are resources you can access.
If a loved one has expressed that they have considered suicide or they are exhibiting some common warning signs of suicidal ideation, do not hesitate to address the topic directly. It’s a frequent misconception that talking about suicide with a struggling individual may hurt more than help. Addressing the subject head-on can provide a safe space for the individual to talk about the problem. Still, having this conversation requires that you approach it without judgment or shame. Simply asking ““Have you ever thought of harming yourself or trying to take your own life?” can make a world of difference.
What Are the Warning Signs
You may not always be certain if someone is struggling with suicidal ideation. While every individual is different, some warning signs to look out for include:
- Talking about suicide or self-harm
- Participating in reckless behavior, such as substance abuse
- Talking about feeling helpless or having no purpose
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Frequently acting agitated or anxious
- Withdrawal from normal activities
- Extreme mood swings
- Talking about being trapped, suffering, or in pain
Where You Can Turn
Reaching out for help with suicidal ideation for yourself or a loved one is a life-saving action. There are national resources available to turn to 24/7. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-8255. Alternatively, you can text “NAMI” to 741741 to reach Crisis Text Line for additional resources.
Along with these nationally available resources, you might consider finding help with a licensed therapist. Both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy are proven to reduce suicidal ideation. These types of therapy help to identify triggers for suicidal thoughts and build necessary skills for emotional regulation, particularly in times of crisis. Whether you choose to attend therapy in person, in a group setting, or via online visits, it can be an effective step in regaining a sense of control over your life and your mental health.
What Else You Should Know
Some individuals are hesitant to discuss suicidal ideation with a therapist due to the “duty to warn” that exists among mental health professionals. Duty to warn is one of very few times a therapist may breach client confidentiality by contacting loved ones or a medical facility regarding your thoughts and intentions of suicide. However, this is not a breach taken lightly. A therapist will only take these steps if he or she feels they are necessary for your safety and well-being. Simply coming to a therapist with abstract thoughts of suicide will not necessarily lead to hospitalization or intervention/supervision from loved ones.
Suicidal ideation is a serious concern. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call 911 or dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. For ongoing mental healthcare at your fingertips, connect with MeMD to access our online behavioral health services.