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The Emerging Storm: Suicide & COVID-19

The Emerging Storm: Suicide & COVID-19

“We are all in the same boat,” the social media posts proclaim, in reference to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  And, while I appreciate the sense of unity that such posts imply, I adamantly disagree. We are not all in the same boat here. Even professionally, I hear from colleagues who are absolutely inundated at work, dealing with all sorts of unprecedented obstacles in the midst of elevated prescription volumes. I also hear from pharmacists who have been furloughed or dismissed entirely due to low census volumes at the hospitals as scheduling departments continue to postpone “non-life threatening” surgical procedures, the staple “lifeblood” of many facilities. I hear from pharmacists who, themselves, have contracted the virus. I hear from those who are elated to be working from home. I hear from others who are struggling desperately to balance a new “work from home” piece with daycare and school cancellations. I hear from those who are making repeated efforts to file for state unemployment benefits, only to find that the system is too overwhelmed to process the application. In short, we are clearly not all in the same boat.  

I find one author’s analogy to be much more suiting: we are all in the same storm. We are in entirely different boats, and these boats will fare this storm to varying degrees. Some will quickly take on water; some will be pushed off course; and some will feel softer inconvenient punches as the waves slap the side of the boat. We are in this storm together, and compassion is key. More than ever before, we must be “in tune” with one another and respond as we are able. We all know those in our lives right now who are quickly taking on water… whether the crisis be health-related, financially related, or sheer emotional exhaustion. And, we ARE seeing other vessels responding to the “mayday” calls. Hope is never lost, and we are never in the storm alone. It is a simple, yet fundamentally vital, message that we must keep in the forefront during this time.

Unfortunately, for many, the storm creates a façade of unrelenting isolation and hopelessness. These terms resonate in my mind because of the verbiage used by suicide survivors in the sobering FreeCE program that I have the privilege of hosting, “Fatal Perceptions: Suicide Prevention Tools for Community Practice.” Sadly, suicide rates have been rising in the United States over the past 20 years, and many of the complicating factors are magnified in this current storm: economic stress, social isolation, decreased access to a support network, and increased demands and expectations in the workplace.

Professionally, we must be aware of this potential among our patients, but also among ourselves. Though the data lags behind the advance of the pandemic, some preliminary studies are suggesting a significant increase in suicide deaths among a variety of populations, but among medical personnel in particular. It is important to recognize that this notoriety is not unique to the current crisis, only magnified by it. In fact, when ranked by profession in 2015, four of the ‘top 10’ spots are occupied by medical professionals: physicians, dentists, veterinarians, and pharmacists.

This blog is not intended to forecast ‘gloom and doom’ on the horizon. Quite to the contrary, the intent is to promote awareness of a significant risk and to highlight the need for a non-traditional set of tools that is far from intuitive. I hope, then, that you will be able to join me for this important home study webcast. For the month of May, this 1.5-hour session is being offered as an absolutely FREE resource to members and non-members alike (or future members, as we prefer to recognize them)! Please share this resource and take action now to prepare for the looming storm.

If you, or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential.

Stay safe & Stay hopeful!

Sources:

  1. Reger, M., Stanley, I., Joiner, T. (2020). Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019—A Perfect Storm?  JAMA Psychiatry.  Accessed online (5/1/20): https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2764584
  2. http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/01/06/top-11-professions-with-highest-suicide-rates/
  3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml
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