Blog re-posted from Washington State Department of Health
Most of us have experienced feeling burnt out, exhausted, and overwhelmed as we navigate the challenges of COVID-19. The risk of suicide, depression, hopelessness, and substance use is typically highest during the disillusionment phase of a disaster, and it’s what we’re seeing right now. Contrary to common belief, the greatest risk of suicide is during the spring, not winter. It’s important we learn how to talk about suicide and suicide prevention when people in our lives may be struggling.
In this episode of the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) podcast on coping with COVID-19, Kira Mauseth, PhD and Doug Dicharry, MD discuss suicide prevention with special guests Lizzie Cayden, MSc, CPP from the DOH Suicide Prevention Program Unit, and Jennifer Stuber, PhD at the University of Washington School of Social Work.
Suicidal thoughts are a common reaction to painful experiences
It is not uncommon for people to experience thoughts about suicide (suicidal ideation). Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 1 in 20 adults and 1 in 10 teens reported having recent thoughts about suicide. Now, as the pandemic continues, we are seeing even higher rates. That doesn’t mean everyone thinking about suicide will plan, attempt, or die by suicide. But, it’s important to address what people are going through so they can get through it safely and feel supported.
Thoughts of suicide are usually not about wanting to end one’s life, but rather wanting to end one’s pain. Having these thoughts is a human response many people have when alternatives feel limited. For some, trauma may play a role. No matter the causes, we need to get comfortable talking about them to help people get the support they need and to eliminate stigma as a barrier to care.
Talking about suicide can save lives
Suicide and suicidal ideation can be difficult to talk about. Many people worry that if they share their suicidal thoughts, they may face judgement, disapproval, or repercussions. They may feel a sense of shame. It isn’t shameful to have thoughts of suicide, but it can still be hard to talk about. Disclosing thoughts of suicide takes a tremendous amount of courage.
When we don’t talk about suicide, we miss opportunities to provide help and connection to those who are struggling. There is a sense of isolation that comes with having suicidal thoughts. Talking about it can provide social support and help people feel less alone.
A common myth is that if you ask someone if they are thinking about suicide and they are not, you will cause them to think about it — this is not true. If you are worried about someone, asking them how they are feeling in a caring and compassionate way might save their life. Not all conversations will go well. People who are struggling may feel they need to hide what they are going through and may get defensive or angry. Still, it is important to reach out to loved ones who might be struggling to let them know you care and will be there when they are ready to talk. You can also suggest resources if they might feel more comfortable talking to someone else.
Coping strategies for difficult moments
If you have thoughts of suicide, it might feel like there are no other options. The good news is that the thoughts are temporary, and there are things you can do to cope until they pass.
Distraction — One of the most common strategies for coping with suicidal thoughts is distraction. Do something that takes your attention away from those thoughts. Take a walk, have a COVID-safe visit with a friend, engage in a hobby, or take a shower.
Hope — When you have suicidal thoughts, it can be hard to see other options for relieving the pain. Hope means knowing there are other options, even when your mind tricks you into believing you’ve tried everything. With hope, you can look for a different, more positive perspective on what the future might hold and remind yourself that you are more resilient than you are giving yourself credit for. One way to develop hope is by connecting with others whose lives have been touched by suicide and learn from their experiences.
Connection — Professional and social support are key to getting through difficult times, including times of suicidal thoughts. Connecting with someone who can sit with you, listen, and empathize can reduce feelings of isolation and shame.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. Lean on your support system and be open to telling others what you’re going through. It can take time for those difficult thoughts to pass, but using coping strategies can help get you through the most critical moments.
LEARN to support others
You can save lives in your family and community by knowing how to prevent suicide. The LEARN model can help you understand when someone may be at risk for suicide and how to connect them with help.
- Look for signs
- Empathize and listen
- Ask directly about suicide
- Remove dangers
- Next steps
Read more about each step in the LEARN model at the Forefront Suicide Prevention webpage.
It’s ok to ask for help
For many who are struggling, spending time with a caring friend can go a long way. But sometimes people need more support than a friend can give. Helplines offer counseling for those in crisis and are a critical resource for preventing suicide. People in distress can reach out to these helplines at any time:
For more national and local suicide prevention resources, visit Forefront Suicide Prevention’s Resources webpage. The DOH Suicide Prevention Program also has a list of hotline, text, and chat resources, which includes help for specific populations and regions.
Talking openly about mental health and suicide prevention is essential, especially during natural disasters like a pandemic. It is normal to not feel ok right now. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, talk to your healthcare provider or someone you trust to help you get support. For more resources on managing mental health during COVID-19, visit coronavirus.wa.gov/wellbeing.
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Check the state’s COVID-19 website for up-to-date and reliable info at coronavirus.wa.gov.
See what vaccine phase we are in now at CovidVaccineWA.org. To find out if it’s your turn, visit FindYourPhaseWA.org and our timeline of vaccine phases. Check the vaccine locator map for a list of places where you can get the vaccine, which is provided at no cost.
Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.
Originally posted March 24, 2021