Editor’s note: This article was last reviewed on September 16, 2021. COVID-19 information and recommendations are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website or view our most recent COVID-19 blog posts.
At a moment when many Americans are experiencing extreme stress because of the pandemic, it’s a good time to discuss the issues of suicide and mental health.
A study done by Boston University School of Public Health, and reported by Reuters Health found, “Pre-COVID-19, 24.7% of U.S. adults reported mild to severe depressive symptoms, compared to 52.5% of those surveyed in April 2020, with the pandemic underway and quarantine orders still in place.”
Dr. Michael Schulein, a psychologist at Marshfield Clinic Health System, said we cannot predict suicidal behavior in individuals, but there are warning signs we can look for. These warning signs generally occur in one of five areas that make up our lives: health, friendships, activities, school/work and family.
“Any changes in any of these areas can affect our mental health. For instance an athlete who has a major injury has had a significant change to their body, which may impact their mental health,” Schulein said. “For teens, if their friendships are causing them stress, if they’re being targeted online and harassed, that can influence mental health.”
If people are withdrawing from social relationships, not taking care of their hygiene or have stopped doing things that usually interest them, these can be signs of depression. A sudden change in a student’s commitment to school or an adult’s participation in work can also be signs something is wrong.
Unique stress of the pandemic
“One of the things that help our resilience when faced with stress is when only one of the five areas is abnormal. But right now, it may be all those areas of our lives have changed,” Schulein said. “The virus makes us feel less safe in many areas of our lives. That makes us more vulnerable to stress, then depression and then possibly even thoughts about suicide.”
Talking to teens about suicide
Many teenagers worry about how their parents will react if they open up about dark thoughts.
“One of the things that can help a teen open up is having the assurance from their parents that they will listen and stay calm no matter what their child says,” Schulein said. “Teens worry their parents will ‘freak out,’ a term teens often use when worried about a parent’s possible reaction.”
This video provides useful tips on how to ask a teen if they are having suicidal thoughts.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, Schulein has a number of recommendations. He said to make sure all firearms in your home are locked away and secure. Easy access to firearms is closely linked to an increased likelihood of suicide.
“Locking firearms away gives people a chance to stop and think before acting on dark thoughts,” Schulein said.
He also suggests downloading the app My3, which provides immediate access to the National Suicide Prevention Line. COVID Coach is another app which helps people manage stress, check their mood and provides tools for coping with depression. The direct number for the National Suicide Prevention Line is 1- 800-273-8255.