September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. While we do not have any research, so far, detailing the impact of COVID-19 on suicidal tendencies, one thing is very obvious: this pandemic has negatively impacted the mental health of even the most well-functioning people among us.
It would be difficult to overstate the significance of stressors such as isolation, uncertainty, financial stress and job insecurity on our mental health. The many aspects of our lives we took for granted just a few months ago have turned out to be essential for our mental well-being. Healthy aspects of our lives such as physical contact, family interactions, group involvement, employment predictability, and daily routines profoundly affect the way we see ourselves, our self-confidence, our sense of belonging, our sense of purpose and value.
For those among us who were already dealing with mental health concerns, and most of those having never been diagnosed or treated (as many as 1 in 6 Americans according to the National Institute of Mental Health), the current circumstances expose our most vulnerable areas. If you are someone who has either openly or privately struggled with anxiety or depression, this may be especially difficult.
Perhaps you are someone who grew up being taught that you just have to “tough it out” no matter what and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. There are a great many people who have allowed these beliefs to deprive them of the help that is available - help that can be very effective and may even save their lives. If this is you, you are not alone. Every one of us needs help from time to time. This is not a weakness, it is simply a fact of being human. When we ignore the help that is available, we impact not only our own lives, but everyone around us. You affect others, whether you want to or not.
With this in mind, let me just encourage everyone who thinks they are reaching their limit on what they can handle to reach out. There are many avenues for getting emotional support from family or friends, as well as getting professional help from your medical or mental health providers. If you have had thoughts of taking your own life, you can call 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also go to your nearest hospital emergency room.
If you know someone you think may be considering taking their own life, encourage them to make a call, go to the ER, or seek other professional help. In the meantime, listen to them, invite them to open up to you without fear of judgment or rejection. You may be the encouragement they need to know they are not alone and to seek help.
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.