A New Suicide Crisis In The Time Of Coronavirus: 10 Early Warning Signs Of Self-Harm

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A New Suicide Crisis In The Time Of Coronavirus: 10 Early Warning Signs Of Self-Harm
Health And Wellness

On April 1, 2020, two seniors at the air force academy in Colorado Springs committed suicide, one day apart.

Then, a 34-year-old Italian nurse killed herself for feeling guilty that she may have infected others with coronavirus.

A 19-year-old waitress in the U.K. killed herself out of fear of the mental-health impact coronavirus could have on her.

She reported before her death that she couldn’t deal with the world closing in on her, her plans being canceled, and being stuck inside. My guess is that she felt trapped and helpless.

In Tennessee, more people died by suicide than the coronavirus.

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Ever since COVID-19 has taken over our daily life, all crisis hotlines are up, some as much as 300 percent. These statistics are staggering.

People are hurting and feeling more and more out of control and helpless.

Why is suicide on the rise right now?

You are human and are wired to be in connection and relationship with others. Even introverts of the world still need connection.

You are also wired to have hope — hope for love, happiness, and whatever you define as success.

There is a generalized hope in tomorrow, hope for a paycheck, hope in the goodness of people. Without hope, there is despair.

This seems to be why, at this unprecedented time, suicide is on the rise.

When we feel out of control, anxiety and depression take hold.

All humans want and need to have a sense of control in their lives. When that control is stripped away from you, it is traumatic and, therefore, normal for anxiety and depression to increase.

Anxiety is directly related to feeling out of control and unsafe. Depression is related to feeling helpless.

It is safe to say that the coronavirus triggers both in many people.

Anxiety and suicide rates have increased worldwide. The anxiety is mostly related to fear of losing work, money, homes, health, and the death of loved ones.

In addition, isolation and loneliness are creating more and more sense of helplessness and depression.

Some may feel suicide is the "only way out" — but it's not. 

When you feel completely out of control and powerless to do anything about it, you may think the only answer is to end your life.

For those on the front lines like doctors and nurses, there is an incredible amount of depression and anxiety.

They go to work daily and put their own lives on the line. Then, they are forced to isolate themselves from family and friends after work.

My client is an ER nurse and her daily life is at risk of infection. After work, she confines herself from family and friends — and then she gets to do the whole thing again tomorrow.

She tries so hard to maintain her spirits, but says it's getting harder and harder. Surrounded by illness, death, and sadness with no real end in sight, depression and hopelessness ensue.

When depression and anxiety meet, which they often do in a crisis, it is common to think and feel as if all hope is lost.

Those two 18-year-old kids at the air force academy, who had their whole lives in front of them, lost hope. It is tragic and quite scary.

This is a global mental health crisis and it is touching us all.

If you or someone you know are showing the following 10 early warning signs, it means added care and support are needed so be on the lookout.

  • Talk of hopelessness where you can’t seem to see a future beyond this crisis
  • Increased and unmanageable anxiety
  • Inability or no desire to connect with others, increasing isolation
  • Struggling with sleep and eating
  • Loss of motivation to do things you once enjoyed
  • Loss of care for things you used to care about
  • No structure or schedule to the day
  • Increased substance abuse
  • Mood swings
  • Talk of self-harm or death, even if it's in a "joking" manner

Now that you're aware of these signs, what you can do now is to take practical steps to manage these suicidal feelings.

This is a crisis and it will pass.

Still, the pain you’re feeling today is very real.

It can be hard to see beyond the suffering, at this moment. As bleak as things may seem, it is important to do what you can.

It is essential to talk to someone trusting about what you are feeling. I promise, you are not alone.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Live A Balanced Lifestyle While In Coronavirus Lockdown

Here are 13 practical things you can do to prevent self-harm when you feel overwhelmed by coronavirus depression and anxiety.

1. Call a crisis hotline.

Tell someone how you’re feeling and how you’re struggling. You will not be judged or shamed.

The regular crisis hotline is 1-800-273-8255. But there is a specialty crisis hotline addressing suicide associated with this virus: 1-800-985-5990.

For more information, you can visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

2. Make a list of all the things you can and cannot control.

These lists may be uneven. It is normal to have many more things you cannot control in life.

It is a waste of energy to focus on what you cannot control. Focus on what you can and know that is good enough.

3. Work on staying in the present moment.

It truly is the only thing we can control.

Guided meditation is very helpful in building this skill.

4. Learn how to breathe.

As silly as that sounds, learning how to breathe to calm down the nervous system is imperative.

Practice taking deep breathes through the nose and exhaling through your mouth.

5. Try to feel safe.

What do you need to put into place to feel safe?

What is your plan in case you start to feel sick? Do you have the proper medicines and supplies at home?

Create what you need to feel safe. This will bring you a sense of calm and control.

6. Build connections.

Connection is vital right now.

You may be wanting to isolate beyond what is being recommended by the government. But connection and being seen is crucial.

Connect with family or friends via phone or video apps like Zoom. Spend as much time as possible with these people.

7. Create a routine and structure for your day.

This allows you to have a sense of control. Remember to have some flexibility within the structure so you don’t get too rigid and then beat yourself up if you don’t stick to it exactly.

A general sense of what your day will look like is very helpful.

8. Put regular exercise into your schedule.

Going for daily walks, yoga, as well as meditation are all powerful tools to maintain sanity and perspective during this trying time.

9. Get outside as much as you can.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient and low amounts are directly linked to depression.

10. Limit the amount of alcohol you consume.

Alcohol is a depressant, so if you are already struggling with depression and feeling helpless, then alcohol won’t be your friend.

Remember: Moderation is key.

11. Look at the past evidence in your life that you have gotten through hard times.

You do have what it takes. It’s always OK to ask for support and extra resources when needed.

12. Doing nice things for others can really put things in perspective.

Seeking out others who need encouragement or a grocery delivery lifts the spirits and takes the focus off your own troubles.

And if you need assistance, then reach out because there are people who would love to help.

Facebook is a great place to find groups that are wanting and willing to help others.

13. Be gentle with yourself.

Daily acts of self-care are healing to the body and mind.

What can you do if someone you care about is at risk?

If you are concerned that someone you care about may be suicidal, then directly ask them, "Are you thinking about hurting yourself in any way? Are you suicidal?"

Don’t be afraid to ask the question.

Let them know you care, are concerned, and want to support them in any way you can.

It’s important not to minimize or try to fix their feelings and thoughts about dying. You also don’t need to talk them out of feeling what they are feeling.

Try to have empathy for the pain they are in.

I had a suicidal client last week. He had lost his job and house even before the coronavirus hit. He had recently gone through a divorce, and this virus was the last straw.

He called me, having been drinking all day and said there was a gun in the house. He said the gun was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and asked what was so wrong with killing himself?

I told him he had every right to feel what he was feeling, and if he really wanted to, he could kill himself. There was nothing I could do to stop him at that moment.

To me, it wasn’t about living or dying — it was about connecting to his pain, which is what I did.

I let him know I knew he probably didn’t really want to end it all. He really wanted to be out of his pain, and I didn’t blame him for feeling that way.

I wanted him to know I saw his suffering. Granted, I’m a trained professional, but it was still very scary. He had lost hope. So, I gave him hope.

I let him know that I was here to help him walk through his suffering and get to the other side.

Luckily, he trusted me enough to let his dad know that he needed to go to the hospital, get sober, and then start working through his depression. He took a huge step and got the extra help he needed to continue his healing journey.

It's hard, but you can connect to someone's pain, too.

The coronavirus is intensifying all the normal anxiety and depression that was already there, just at a low hum.

With the added reality of being powerless, despair can follow and so many think the only option is to die. I understand that pain and my guess is you can, too.

We truly are all in this together. It’s OK to feel what you are feeling or for your loved one to be struggling.

But the coronavirus does not have to mean loss of hope. It can mean there is more opportunity for humanity to show its goodness, for new connections, self-care, and self-acceptance, as well as something called "trauma bonding."

You can connect with others who understand this plight. You are not alone and there is always hope that tomorrow will be better.

RELATED: 5 Actionable Steps To Calm Anxiety & Stress During The Coronavirus Pandemic

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Lesley Goth, PsyD has a private practice in Broomfield Co. She specializes in trauma, anxiety, and depression. If you or a loved one is struggling, please reach out and find the support that is available. You can find out more about Lesley and how to contact her on her website.

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