THE Pan American Health Organisation has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate suicide risk factors, urging people to speak about the issue in an open and responsible manner, remain connected even during physical distancing, and learn to identify warning signs to prevent it.
According to PAHO, the novel coronavirus is affecting the mental health of many people with data from recent studies showing an increase in distress, anxiety and depression, particularly among healthcare workers. These, in addition to violence, alcohol use disorders, substance abuse, and feelings of loss, are important factors that can increase a person’s risk of deciding to take their own lives, the agency said.
“We still don’t know how increased depression, domestic violence or substance use will impact suicide rates in the region, but it’s important to take a minute to talk about it, support each other in these pandemic times, and know the warning signs of suicide to help prevent it,” said Renato Oliveira e Souza, PAHO’s head of mental health and substance abuse.
This comes after World Suicide Prevention Day was observed on September 10.
Most suicides in the region (36 percent) occur in people between the age of 25 and 44, and those between the age of 45 and 59 (26 percent), PAHO said, adding that Guyana and Suriname have the highest suicide rates in the region.
As in the rest of the world, suicide rates in men remain higher than for women, and account for about 78 percent of all suicide deaths, PAHO added. Three times more men than women are killed in high-income countries, but in low- and middle-income countries the rate is 1.5 men for each woman.
“This 2020 we find ourselves in very unexpected and challenging circumstances as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the new coronavirus has probably had an affect on everyone’s mental well-being. And that’s why this year, more than ever, it’s crucial that we work together to prevent suicide,” Mr Oliveira e Souza stressed.
According to PAHO, most suicides are preceded by verbal or behavioral warning signs such as talking about: wanting to die, feeling great guilt or shame, or feeling a burden on others. Other signs are feeling empty, hopeless, trapped, or with no reason to live; feeling extremely sad, anxious, agitated, or full of anger; or with unbearable pain, whether emotional or physical.
Also, behavioral changes such as making a plan or researching ways to die; staying away from friends, saying goodbye, giving away important items or making a will; doing very risky things like driving at extreme speed; showing extreme mood swings; eating or sleeping too much or too little; using drugs or alcohol more often. All these can be warning signs of suicide.
PAHO’s release said suicide can be prevented and effective interventions are available. On a personal level, early detection and treatment of depression and alcohol use disorders are critical to suicide prevention, as well as follow-up contact with those who have tried suicide and psychosocial support in communities. If a person detects warning signs of suicide themselves or in someone they know, they should seek help from a health care professional as soon as possible.
Removing barriers to access to mental health care, limiting access to the means to commit suicide, providing truthful and appropriate information on the subject in the media, as well as reducing the stigma associated with seeking help can also help reduce suicide.
Last week, The Tribune reported that the Bahamas Red Cross said it received more than 200 calls to the organisation’s support hotline in less than a month in August mainly related to those feeling financial stress or not having a job amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Bernadette Saunders, the Red Cross’ health and wellness coordinator, said she can get up 50 to 60 calls in a given day. She estimated she received calls from five people contemplating suicide since March but highlighted there are some who call the hotline and may not open up to being suicidal.
A week ago, police said a man was rescued by a concerned citizen after he drove his car into waters below the Montagu ramp in an attempted suicide.
If you are in distress, you can contact the Red Cross’ hotline at 828-4121.