- September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.
- Globally, suicide rates appear unimpacted by COVID-19, but there has been an increase in suicidal thoughts.
- The pandemic may have inspired a "coming together," which could lead people to seek needed mental health assistance.
- Yet suicidal thoughts can lead to suicide, so it's important to be mindful of how to prevent suicide.
Suicide is a permanent solution to what is often a temporary problem. September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, so it’s a good time to examine the topic as well as the tools we have to prevent suicide.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Suicide
Globally, the impact of the coronavirus on suicide rates is largely unchanged. As a matter of fact, early in the pandemic, the numbers dropped compared to pre-pandemic statistics. (Pirkis, et al., 2021). On the one hand, the pandemic has caused many people great hardship due to fear, uncertainty, isolation, social distancing, education disruption, economic challenges, domestic violence, and losing loved ones from the virus.
However, similar to what transpired around the events of 9/11 twenty years ago, there seems to be a sort of “coming together” as we deal with this collective trauma. What might explain this phenomenon is that we’re spending more time with loved ones and might be getting additional emotional support that might not have been available prior to the pandemic.
Being Alert to the Signs of Suicide
In spite of this silver lining, we still need to be alert to the possibility of suicide. The implications of suicide prevention have emerged during this time, as well as our need to refocus attention on the importance of mental health treatments for individuals, communities, and nations.
Although numbers may be down in terms of overall suicide rates, suicidal thoughts appear to have increased. According to Gunnell, et al. (2020), recent evidence has shown that during the pandemic, there was an increase in such thoughts, especially in young adults and those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.
Global Interventions and Suicide
One thing that’s been born out of the pandemic is the formation of a new international collaborative called The Suicide Prevention in Primary Care Special Interest Group, which is a branch of the International Association of Suicide Prevention. The aim of this group is to bring together clinicians, researchers, policymakers, and those with lived experiences to examine opportunities to improve care around the globe.
Managing mental illnesses such as depression is a good place to start because this condition is often a precursor to suicide. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know the long-range mental health effects of living through such a long and seemingly never-ending pandemic, which could result in extended economic and social stressors.
Here are some suicide prevention strategies that could make a difference:
- Encourage engagement in meaningful connections. Humans are social creatures, so we need to connect with others. What’s most important is not how many connections we have, but whether these connections are heartfelt, quality interactions.
- Encourage writing. To augment therapy, journaling can be a powerful way to release feelings and emotions. It can also increase self-awareness. Writing letters to help express frustrations about particular situations can also help lessen the tension of many stressors.
- Instill hope and purpose. Feelings of loneliness and isolation have been prevalent during the pandemic, which can often lead to depression and, subsequently, suicide. Individual and group therapy, and connecting with those who are managing well, can help instill a sense of belonging, which can be a powerful antidote to suicide.
- Encourage public education. It’s important to know the warning signs of suicide, and also offer healthy coping mechanisms that encourage emotional resilience. It’s vital to remind people that although sometimes there are no suicide warning signs, friends and loved ones need to be alert to the most common ones, such as prolonged depression, excessive substance abuse, and untreated mental illness.
- Identify health needs in yourself and others. Early detection is important in suicide prevention. Treatment such as talk therapy and medications can often help.
- Provide a safe environment. Doing so means removing oneself or others from unsafe situations where there might be abuse or other signs of danger. It also involves minimizing access to dangerous weapons. Studies have shown that removing guns and knives from the home can lessen the risk of suicide. This is particularly important with respect to teenagers and young adults.
- Reach out for help. If you or a loved one has had thoughts of suicide, please seek help. There are probably free services in your community, and/or you can contact the National Association for Suicide Prevention.
For immediate help in the U.S., 24/7: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK. Outside of the U.S., visit PT's International Resources page for suicide hotlines in your country. To find a therapist near you, see the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Gunnell, et al. (2020). Suicide risk and prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lancet Psychiatry. 7(6) pp. 468–471.
Mughal, F. et al. (2021). “Suicide Prevention in Primary Care: (editorial). Crisis. 42(4). pp. 241–246.
O’Connor, R. C., et al. (202). Mental Health and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic: longitudinal analyses of adults in the UK Covid-19 Mental Health & Wellbeing study. The British Journal of Psychiatry.https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2020.212.
Patrick, W. (2020). “The Best Ways to Prevent Suicide.” Psychology Today. August 2.
Pirkis, J., et al. (2021) Suicide trends in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Lancet Psychiatry.https://doi.org/10.1016/s2215-0366(21)00091-2.
Sinyor, M, et al. (2021). “Suicide risk and prevention during the Covid-19 pandemic: one year on.” Archives of Suicide Research.
“Suicide Prevention is Possible.” SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education). Save.org.