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Sharp Health News

Warning signs of suicide during COVID-19

Sept. 23, 2020

Young man on smart phone listening to headphones
The U.S. is in the midst of two public health crises: the coronavirus pandemic and rising suicide rates. The countless disruptions in people’s lives have added to the already difficult task of preventing suicide, mental health experts say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in July that U.S. adults are experiencing considerably more mental health challenges during the pandemic. Approximately twice as many respondents reported serious consideration of suicide in the previous 30 days than did adults in 2018, referring to the previous 12 months (10.7% versus 4.3%). Key groups with worse mental health outcomes and those who have seriously considered suicide were younger adults, people of color, essential workers and unpaid adult caregivers.

Charles Westfall, manager of adult outpatient services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, believes the increase in thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts could stem from the following risk factors during the pandemic:

  • Social distancing, which can evoke feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Financial hardships
  • Decreased in-person support (e.g., church, school and neighborhood connections)
  • Constant consumption of news and social media
Health conditions and historical and environmental factors also can play a role in the increased risk for suicide.

Because social interactions are less frequent or happening virtually, becoming more aware of changes in a loved one’s behavior may be key to identifying warning signs.

“Many of the signs that someone may be considering suicide will be harder to read or detect during times of physical distancing,” says Westfall.

Warning signs to watch out for:

  • Changes in tone, language and time of day when texting, talking or posting online. For instance, the middle of the night can be cause for concern because disruption of sleep can worsen suicidal behavior, increase feelings of isolation and lead to reliance on substance use.
  • The frequency with which a person answers calls or texts.
  • Changes in the frequency and content of what they might be sharing online or if they share media links with you. This behavior can show what information is central to their view or their surroundings.
“Trust your instincts if you feel like someone may be in trouble,” says Westfall, who offers guidance on what to do if you are concerned.

  • Ask direct questions without being judgmental.
  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Do not swear to secrecy.
  • Get professional help even if the person resists.
Lastly, with stressors being amplified during the pandemic, Westfall reminds us that anyone is prone to more mental distress during this time, and help is available.

“These times are tough and full of the unknown,” says Westfall. “Know that you are not alone, seek help and remember that storms don’t last forever.”

If you or a loved one is in crisis, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255. For additional assistance, Sharp Mesa Vista is here to help. Please call 858-836-8434.

For the news media: To talk with a Sharp Mesa Vista expert for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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