Michael J. Formica MS, MA, EdM

Enlightened Living


Increased Suicidality in the Face of the Pandemic

Our reluctance to integrate uncertainty and change

Posted Aug 17, 2020

Human beings thrive on structure and consistency. Even the most free-spirited of us are defined—and held safe—by our sense of freedom and autonomy. When our container of identity is threatened, we find ourselves feeling untethered and adrift. In some instances, we may even find ourselves collapsing under the pressure of uncertainty and not knowing.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has recently reported a significant increase in suicidality and suicidal ideation, particularly among younger persons, since the beginning of the pandemic. Considered within the culture of uncertainty recently foisted on the world-at-large, this makes a certain amount of sense.

Suicidality, at its core, is a failure to see options. Put more plainly, it’s a cloying sense that "there is nothing more to do." More pointedly: "There is nothing more I can do." In a situation where we have been divested of virtually all of our power and purpose, the structure and consistency upon which we thrive seemingly crumbles around us. We are then left with an abiding sense of uncertainty, which, for some, feels like nothing less than staring into an endless twilight.

That younger people would be more affected by this also makes sense. Older folks, while saddled with the same sense of uncertainty, have a point of reference for change. Younger generations, simply for lack of life experience, are not so well-equipped.

A younger person, who starts out not knowing, and then, as a result of the pandemic, gets handed a whole new passel of not knowing, is confronting a much more significant burden than their elders. That’s not to minimize the experience of those of us who’ve been around for more than a few decades, nor is it to excuse younger generations as emotionally ill-equipped or fragile. It’s more a perspective on how we receive and process uncertainty and the potential—and, in some cases, necessity—for change.

From a broader perspective, the willingness to integrate change is also a challenge. We do not live in the same world we did five or six months ago. The messaging around addressing those changes from our alleged leaders has been inconsistent, at best. Our willingness to embrace those changes—right down to the simple act of wearing a mask to protect others, as well as ourselves—has become a point of divisive contention. All of this impacts and amplifies our uncertainty, only making it more of an obstacle to the state of both individual and cultural mental health going forward.

In a world seemingly bereft of options, where do we turn? We turn towards the one constant we have, which is change. Not only do we embrace it, but we seek it out, because it is the only constant, no matter how much we push back against it.

There is no going back to the way things were. There is no new normal. There is only the now normal, and we, as a society, must be receptive and nimble enough to not only recognize that, but bring it forward as a teachable moment for both ourselves and those younger and less experienced. Rather than succumbing to the current storm, let’s make certain, going forward, we—and they—are the storm.

© 2020 Michael J. Formica