Millions of Americans have lost their jobs. They’ve watched helplessly as their meager savings dwindled away, as they were confined to their homes—prohibited from interacting with friends, attending church, temple or music and sporting events due to restrictions enacted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This resulted in a profound impact on the mental health and emotional well-being of people—leading to a significant increase in cases of anxiety, depression and deaths by suicide.
Well-regarded, public-health entities, such as the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and the World Health Organization (WHO), all point out that our mental health is “languishing” and “issued warnings about the possible effects of COVID-19 on suicidal behaviors.”
A major research study concludes that the United Nations and WHO contend that its important to enhance their focus on mental health matters, including suicide prevention. The organizations assert, “Mental health consequences are likely to be present for longer and peak later than the actual pandemic. Suicide is likely to become a more pressing concern, as the pandemic spreads and has longer-term effects on the general population, the economy and vulnerable groups.”
In April, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association wrote that economic stress, social isolation, reduced access to religious services and overall national anxiety increased firearm sales and healthcare worker suicides.
U.S. News & World Report detailed the story of Dr. Lorna Breen, a 49-year-old emergency room doctor in New York City. Dr. Breen, during the difficult early stages of the outbreak, worked 18-hour days and was “sleeping in hospital hallways.”
She contracted Covid-19 and took some time off from work. When she returned, Dr. Breen suffered from exhaustion and her family asked her to return home to recuperate back in Virginia. Her father said she “seemed detached.” She had told her dad that “she was also deeply disturbed after witnessing so much death and suffering of patients.” Dr. Breen subsequently died from a self-inflicted injury.
As a nation, we avoid these types of topics because they’re uncomfortable to talk about. If you honestly think about the situation that we’re all in together, it shouldn’t be that surprising. We are dealing with an unprecedented pandemic. Our leaders can’t agree on anything, except calling each other rude names. Lawmakers recently fled Washington, D.C. for the rest of August, going on vacation, while we await news about the loss of the enhanced $600 per week unemployment payments, whether or not there will be a new stimulus package and if the now-lapsed policy to prohibit evictions will be reinstated.
Scroll through Twitter and, within minutes, you’ll see violence and mayhem in Portland, Oregon and other major U.S. cities. The mass media stokes up fear, hate and racial tensions on an hourly basis. Over 55 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since the start of the outbreak. People are afraid that they’ll lose their jobs, won’t be called back from being furloughed or wonder if their company will still be solvent. Major iconic corporations, such as J.C. Penney, Hertz, Neiman Marcus, J. Crew and Brooks Brothers, have filed for bankruptcy protection. A small group of multibillionaires, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, are minting billions during the lockdown—while the vast majority of Americans are suffering.
Children, young adults and their parents are worried about going back to school. There’s pressure on the parents to juggle their own jobs, while also homeschooling their kids. If students—elementary through college—return to school, there’s fear over contracting the virus.
The CDC conducted a survey of 5,412 people between June 24 and 30 and the collected data on suicides is alarming. Roughly 25% percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 say they’ve considered suicide because of the pandemic. About 30.9% of the respondents said that they “had symptoms of anxiety or depression” and about 26.3% reported trauma and stress-related disorders caused by the outbreak. Over 13% said that they have used alcohol, prescription and/or illegal drugs to deal with their pandemic-induced stress and anxiety.
The amount of Americans reporting anxiety symptoms is triple the number of this time last year. The CDC reported that 11% of adults surveyed had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. The study showed “19% of Hispanics reported suicidal ideation” and “15% of Blacks reported suicidal thoughts.” As it relates to young adults, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said, “We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from [Covid-19].”
Cook County, Illinois Board President Toni Preckwinkle reported that “more African Americans” in her county “have died by suicide this year than during all of 2019.” Most notably, there is an increase of suicide amongst young people. Preckwinkle somberly shared, “2020 is on pace to be the worst year for suicides in the Black community in a decade.”
The loss of jobs, fear of running out of money or getting evicted won’t go away anytime soon. It’s critical that our elected officials, business and community leaders, along with health professionals, work on a solution. It’s a difficult subject, but one that has to be brought out into the open and discussed to gain answers and action.
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention recommends that those needing emotional support related to Covid-19 should call the Disaster Distress Helpline (800-985-5990), or text TalkWithUs to 66746. And if you’re experiencing a suicidal crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text line by texting HOME to 741741 to get help.