The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the lives of millions worldwide. From medical problems to economic issues, more people are stressed and confused about how to stabilize their lives as the global crisis continues. According to a recent study, the stress is expected to increase post-pandemic suicide rates.
The connection between the coronavirus disease and suicide rates was pinpointed by researchers at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Florida State University, and the University of Washington. Their findings unveiled that the two forces might have created a perfect storm. This could result in higher suicide cases once the pandemic wanes. They published the results in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Suicide Rates in the US and the UK
Helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness, and isolation are some of the powerful forces behind suicide. Many of the victims are often sufferers of severe forms of depression. While no one can tell why victims decide to do it, the rising cases of suicide in the last few years, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, indicate an immediate need for interventions. Any cause of suicide deserves a chance of a resolution to save a life.
According to Statista, a German portal for statistics, the UK made substantial progress in reducing the suicide rate in the region. Between 2012 and 2018, the region had a rate of 11.1 per 100,000 people in 2013. Through different interventions, the rate changed to 10.8 by 2014, 10.9 by 2015, 10.4 by 2016, and 10.7 by 2017, the lowest decline within that period. However, the rate bounced back to 11.2 which overtook the record in 2013. Within the UK, the rates were 16.1 per 100,000 in Scotland, 12.8 in Wales, and 10.3 in England. The latest rate in Northern Ireland was 18.5 in 2017, but the country had the lowest rate at 9.6 back in 1997.
Meanwhile, a survey conducted in March 2019 showed one of many reasons behind the suicidal thoughts in people in the UK. Body image has been a strong force that pressured UK adults, and those who could not take the pressure committed to self-harm. One in every eight UK adults experienced such negative thoughts because of body image. About 34% of the respondents felt anxious about their body image, 35% felt depressed, and 13% had suicidal feelings or thoughts. The demography of such thoughts was 11% in men, 15% in women, and 33% in members of the LGBTQ community.
In the US, firearms were identified in 2017 with great involvement in reported suicide cases. Firearms accounted for 51% of all confirmed cases, followed by poison at 14%, and fall at 2%. Other nonspecific mediums involved in cases accounted for 33%. Because of gun involvement, various US organizations have taken steps to minimize the risk in population groups. Some of the methods taken were restricting access to lethal weapons, educating gun owners of warning signs, and reaching out to vulnerable population groups at risk of suicide.
Post-Pandemic Suicide Rates May Be High
Recently, a group of researchers examined how the blending of COVID-19 and multiple levels of stress could exacerbate suicide rates in the US. The combination of the two might overturn the progress of organizations in fighting the problem. If communities were not ready for it, the next epidemic would be centered around suicide. That would further increase the number of deaths in the COVID-19 pandemic timeline.
Researchers utilized the latest available data, from 2018. The data showed the highest age-adjusted suicide rate in the country since 1941. They used that data to calculate the impact of COVID-19 on suicide cases. The context included strict protocols to help reduce the spread of the novel disease and the consequences of those protocols in the overall wellbeing of individuals.
Social distancing has been highlighted to have multiple secondary consequences that severely affect the lives of people in the US. These consequences might raise the chances of a person committing self-harm. The reason that could explain the higher risk was the sudden change in the emotional, mental, and physical aspects of an individual. The analysis of the data aligned to the pandemic showed nine potential influencers of suicide post-pandemic.
The first is economic stress, which can be considered as the greatest of the nine influencers. The closure of businesses, the cancellation of public events, and the suspension of other business-related transactions will risk a recession in the country. Because the problem is a highly contagious disease without a cure or vaccine, people may feel extremely hopeless or helpless, unable to find ways to turn things around.
The second is social isolation and it is a major factor in both suicide and abuse. While some people are imprisoned with their abusers at home, others are stuck in their homes and their negative thoughts. The accumulation of these thoughts and the lack of support from loved ones can lead to loneliness. That loneliness can open doors to anxiety, depression, and self-harm.
The third is reduced access to community and religious support. Gatherings are highly limited to prevent new outbreaks from occurring, but the limitation dampens the ability of people to seek much0needed emotional, mental, and spiritual support. At times like these, people seek spiritual guidance and they mostly rely on church services. They may be prone to hopelessness without access to these services. Members of community support services can feel the same if service providers fail to create new methods to assist their members.
The fourth is the barriers to mental health treatment. Clinics, hospitals, and treatment facilities are mostly focused on COVID-19. This has forced them to prevent in-person visits unless it is an emergency or related to COVID-19. People with mental health disorders can suffer from the restriction. If their condition is severe, such as major depression or schizophrenia, the inability to access and take medications can put them and their community at risk.
The fifth is chronic illnesses. People with chronic illnesses are very prone to COVID-19 and so, doctors do not recommend that they visit or stay in hospitals. Some of them may feel that they are being sent home to die while waiting for everything to go back to normal. This is the psychological impact on these patients.
The sixth is the outcome of nationwide anxiety. The confirmed cases and deaths in the US are staggering. On top of that, news of chaos hitting the streets is being broadcasted. These things can raise the anxiety people feel to unimaginable scale, especially among those who have not experienced a single bout of severe anxiety in their life.
The seventh is suicide among healthcare professionals. Healthcare professionals are the main soldiers of the frontliners against COVID-19. But they are facing deadly challenges, including the shortages in personal protective equipment, inability to be with their families, and high risk of exposure to the virus. Their line of work and the pandemic can be insane to deal with, resulting in many documented cases of suicide.
The eighth is the boom in the sales of firearms. Human instincts kicked in, with many thinking guns are a way to protect themselves, despite the enemy being invisible. When their emotional and mental health decline, they are at risk of using their own firearms to harm themselves.
The last is the seasonal variation in suicide rates. For some reason, suicide cases in the US are higher in late spring and early summer, which warrants further investigation.
Researchers recommend promoting and expanding the availability of creative ways to fulfill health protocols, without hampering suicide prevention opportunities. Some of these are physical distancing but not social distancing, telemedicine, more access to mental health care, remote-based suicide interventions, and new guidelines for media reporting to stop the contagion of suicide.