September 2, 2020
Check in With Your Loved Ones: What You Should Know About Suicide Prevention During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, mental health awareness has been brought to the forefront with people remaining isolated, job statuses changing and regular routines and activities being interrupted. Experts are seeing increases in calls to suicide and mental health help lines, and, while it is too early to tell the impact of the pandemic, suicide rates have been increasing.
September was 6-12 is National Suicide Prevention Week, which encourages people to understand the signs of someone in need of mental health help and teaches others how to prevent suicides.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or a loved one is displaying suicidal behaviors, seek guidance from a mental health care provider, such as a mental health nurse practitioner (NP). If it is an emergency, call 911 immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also provides 24/7 help at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The following are some possible warning signs a person may be at risk for suicide:
- Excessive sadness: Large periods of sadness and increased mood swings can be symptoms of depression.
- Sudden calmness: When a person is suddenly calm after a long lasting period of depression, it may suggest the person made a decision to end his or her life.
- Isolation: Even in times of isolation due to social distancing regulations, people can avoid normal activities and contact with friends and family. Choosing to be alone instead of partaking in social activities are possible symptoms of depression.
- Changes in personality or appearance: A person who is considering suicide may exhibit a drastic change in attitude, such as no longer caring about their personal appearance or changing their style dramatically.
- Self-harm: Another warning sign is dangerous behavior the person may partake in, such as reckless driving, engaging in unsafe sex and increased, unregulated, use of drugs and alcohol.
Is a loved one displaying these warning signs? Here’s what you can do:
- Reach out to them and help them talk through the issues they may be facing. You are not a replacement for a mental health professional, but you can give them the opportunity to speak about their issues.
- Encourage them to call a mental health crisis center or suicide hotline.
- Suggest they speak with a mental health provider and seek professional treatment. You can even assist by helping them find the necessary support or by staying with them until they are able to receive professional help.
- If you are concerned that they may become suicidal, check in with them on a regular basis. Even with social distancing, you can call and text to make sure they are getting the help they need.
If someone you know is frequently exhibiting these behaviors and you are concerned that they are suicidal, it’s important to get them help as soon as possible. If they threaten suicide, take the threat seriously and do not leave them unattended until you can get them to a safe place, such as an emergency room. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important to remember the large role friends and family play in suicide prevention. Know the warning signs and help connect your loved ones to help when it is needed.