The COVID-19 pandemic is testing us in many ways. Considering all that’s happening, emotional support is key. We should be able to discuss how we’re handling our challenges. It’s not easy to start a conversation about how the pandemic is making us feel — but perhaps we should.
A Mental Health Pandemic
A side-effect of COVID-19 may be another pandemic — a mental health one. The social distancing guidelines, financial stress, lifestyle changes and fear of infection may cause a decline in general mental health for years to come.
The Perfect Storm
According to a recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019 — A Perfect Storm?”, the unprecedented COVID pandemic may increase suicide risks for the general population.
Even before the pandemic, America’s suicide rate was at an uptick. Data obtained from United Health Foundation indicates that the suicide rate has grown 25.4% since 1999. In 2017, there were 47,000 deaths by suicide, ranking it as the tenth leading cause of death that year. Sadly, there were twice the number of suicides (47,173) than homicides (19,510).
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, women attempt suicide 1.5 times more than males. However, males have a higher rate of suicide due to their more lethal choices in methods.
Why is there a higher rate of suicide attempts in women?
Women may be more likely than men to attempt suicide to try to communicate their emotional pain. Additionally, women experience depression at higher rates than men do. The COVID pandemic may exacerbate these numbers, for both men and women.
How can we flatten the curve of the potential mental health pandemic? We can have a conversation.
Having the Conversation
Acknowledging the emotional stress caused by the pandemic is the first step. But more importantly, communicating our distress to each other is vital. Instead of keeping feelings in and remaining stoic, let’s open up to each other about our emotions. Checking in with each other, being emotionally open with friends and family, and asking for help when we need it, are some of the steps we can take to support each other.
Although it may feel like it goes against old norms, talking about suicide doesn’t cause suicide. On the contrary – it offers a person going through turmoil an opening to discuss their pain and, perhaps, ask for assistance. Allowing another person to discuss their difficulties, and sharing our own, can create a sense of community and support – both of which we all need.
The Mental Health Impact on Women
Women are disproportionately impacted by pandemic stress, according to a study conducted by the Lifespan Brain Institute. Both men and women worry about financial issues related to the pandemic, but women are more prone to worry.
The American Medical Association offered the same insights in their surveys. Almost half of the women (46%) reported mental health impacts due to the pandemic, while only a third (33%) of the men did. Perhaps women are more apt to disclose their mental health concerns. It may also be due to the unequal distribution of responsibilities within the home, which is only compounded by social isolation and infection control guidelines.
During the pandemic, therapists and counselors have remained available to help. Fortunately, they’re even more accessible than before. Through teletherapy, anyone can speak to a counselor from the privacy of their own home. Having an unbiased, objective person to listen to one’s problems can ease psychological stress.
Talking openly about our feelings can collectively help flatten the mental health curve. Having a conversation about emotional challenges encourages shared support, and relieves the burden from each other.
If you are experiencing feelings of self-harm, or know someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).