By Mark Jacobson
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some people with mental health problems may be at elevated risk for suicide. This is because the levels of stress that many are experiencing can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. People who are already in treatment for suicide risk may need additional support. This includes people who are having suicidal thoughts as well as those with a recent history of suicidal thoughts or a suicide attempt. Other people may experience an exacerbation of existing or emerging mental health problems. This includes those with psychiatric disorder — depressive and bipolar disorders, alcohol and substance use disorders, and psychotic disorders — as well as individuals who struggle with aggressive or disinhibited behavior and find it difficult to manage strong negative emotions. It is important to speak up about your or your family member’s needs during this time and to accept that additional help may be needed.
We can all learn to recognize the warning signs of suicide. Such recognition, combined with expressing caring concern and assisting the person with the next step toward getting professional
help,may be lifesaving.
If you are concerned about someone’s possible suicide risk, we recommend that you share your concern and ask the person if they are having thoughts of suicide. We also recommend that you look out for worrisome behavior changes, particularly when these follow or are related to a loss, painful or shaming experience or change in life circumstances.
Some warning signs for suicide include the following:
• Talk or written words about: killing self/suicide. hopelessness, no reason to live, being a burden on others, feeling trapped, unbearable pain.
• Behaviors: Increased use of alcohol or drugs, withdrawal from usual activities, searching for a way to end life, isolating from family or friends, highly worrisome changes in behavior.
• Mood: Depression, anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, humiliation/shame, agitation/anger, relief/sudden improvement.
If you are concerned for a friend or family member, share your concern with this individual, noting that you care for them. We encourage you to: a) listen to and validate the person’s emotional pain, b) ask if he or she is having thoughts of suicide, and c) stay with the person until they are linked with needed help or with another person who will assist them in getting such help.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, reach out to any of the following at anytime for help:
• National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255). They provide free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional stress 24/7, 365 days a year. The Lifeline is comprised of a national network of over 150 local crisis centers, combining custom local care and resources with national standards and best practices.
• Crisis Text Line : Text “HOME” or “START” to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor. This is a free, 24/7, 365 day a year confidential text message service for people in crisis.
— Mark Jacobson is a peer support specialist from Winona.