Every day we scan news headlines and social media for items of interest to the field of suicide prevention. Here’s what we found last week:

Suicide-related distress calls increasing in Calgary660 City News
April 19, 2020
In April, Distress Centre Calgary received 20% more distress calls than it did in January. “The worries are that this will promote a higher suicide rate,” said Distress Centre Clinical Services Manager and CSP Trainer David Kirby. “The complexity of calls seems more severe, people facing more hardships, more despair.” There are certain populations that may be more impacted psychologically that others, “Right now the biggest area of concern is with the front line responders, and… doctors and nurses…(they) are probably needing a lot of support once this thing shifts and we start to enter more of a recovery phase. People with underlying, preexisting mental health conditions with depression, anxiety, for many of those people social isolation is horrifically impactful,” said Kirby. The Alberta government is providing $53 million for online and phone mental health supports. 

COVID-19: Alberta to boost mental health funding by $53 million as pandemic takes its toll Edmonton Journal
April 23, 2020
The Alberta government will provide an additional $53 million to mental health supports during COVID-19. The funding will be used for a new grant program and a platform that will be launched this spring that will offer mental health screening, self-help guides and counsellors. $21.4 million will improve access to existing helplines including 211 and Kids Help Phone. “​If you’re feeling anxious, depressed,​ scared or lonely; if you feel you can’t cope or take the pressure any longer; if you’re turning too often to alcohol or drugs; please know this: That help is available,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said.

Guidelines: Reporting on suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic (abbreviated version) International Association for Suicide Prevention and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
April 18, 2020
The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) have partnered to release guidelines for journalists on suicide reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines encourage journalists to “present a full picture of what is known about suicide and pandemics” as that is “important to avoid over-simplifying the two issues,” when reporting on a suicide death that occurs during the pandemic.

Pandemic might seem hopeless, but you are not alone: What we can do to reduce suicide risks [Opinion]Houston Chronicle
April 17, 2020
In this opinion piece, Thomas Ellis, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Baylor College of Medicine, worries that suicide rates in the US may increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially considering that their rate has increased more than 33% since 2000. Ellis believes that, “severe stress, loss of loved ones, economic insecurity, disconnection from others (social distancing) and guns” will all play a role in contributing to suicides following the pandemic.

Managing Grief During a PandemicAmerican Foundation for Suicide Prevention
April 17, 2020
Grieving people who have passed away during the pandemic is made more complicated at a time when social gatherings are restricted. Grief may also come as we are not able to visit our loved ones and support each other in ways that may be more familiar to us, in-person. This article by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Doreen Marshall, PhD, suggests ways to process grief at this time. The article reminds us, “There are different ways to say goodbye,” such as writing a letter to the loved one you know who has passed away or who you are unable to see. Remembering the experiences we shared with our loved ones can remind us “of the full picture of their lives and our connection.” Our connections with the person who has passed can also deepen over time, as more memories surface. Finally, Marshall says, “You are not alone in your grief. Know that others are experiencing grief right now and that support is available.”

Coronavirus is causing a mental health crisis. Here’s how to fight it.Vox
April 16, 2020
The Coronavirus may have a lasting psychological impact, including on those who have been hospitalized for the virus, as hospitalization may result in PTSD and depression. Health care workers on the front lines are another group that could experience adverse mental health outcomes. In China, health care workers have already reported heightened feelings of anxiety, insomnia, and depressive symptoms. Prolonged loneliness in general may contribute to anxiety and depression, effects that could be amplified while living under the stress of a pandemic, and for those who are social distancing, “there is a high risk that they’re going to become more anxious, much more depressed, and it’s going to have longer-term effects,” said Rima Styra, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Stresses under a pandemic include “looming sever shortages of resources,” and “unfamiliar public health measures that infringe on personal freedoms,” according to psychiatry professors Betty Pfefferbaum and Carol S. North in a paper published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Mental health group warns of ‘echo pandemic’ among traumatized health workers, vulnerable CanadiansCBC
April 15, 2020
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), a leading mental health advocacy organization in Canada, is calling on the federal government to provide more resources to cope with the threat of an “echo pandemic” of trauma experienced by front line health care workers following the COVID-19 pandemic. Margaret Eaton, CEO of CMHA, said the government failed to deliver adequate mental health services to this group before the COVID-19 pandemic, and that “We won’t know the full picture for some time but given the global reach of COVID-19, our experience tells us the mental health impacts will be significant.” The federal government has just launched a new website providing people with mental health and substance use support by free online resources, tools, apps, and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals, called “Wellness Together Canada.” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said, “The options include an online peer community to talk and share and support others. There are also a number of self-help resources to help with anxiety, stress or other issues and there are options such as texting, calling or connecting by video for a session with a professional to address a specific need.”

‘Urgent studies needed’ into mental health impact of coronavirus Guardian
April 15, 2020
Researchers are calling for a thorough and coordinated program of research to examine the psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, following polls and emerging studies that have suggested psychological effects could be profound. A new report published in Lancet Psychiatry has said that research so far has been fragmented and conducted only on a small scale. Ed Bullmore, head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge and a co-author of the report said, “The pandemic is clearly having a major social and psychological impact on the whole population, increasing unemployment, separating families and various other changes in the way that we live that we know are generally major psychological risk factors for anxiety, depression and self-harm.” The report also recommends that public policy efficacy be examined, as well as how people have coped with the pandemic and how healthcare workers and others who have been significantly impacted may be supported psychologically. Further, says Bullmore, “We think it is also possible that there will be an impact on mental health more specifically in Covid patients in ways that are linked to the brain and the body’s response to viral infection.”

Pharmacists struggle to fill gaps in strained health-care systemCBC
April 14, 2020
*Language warning* Patients have been turning to their pharmacists for advice since the strained health care system has become more inaccessible. “[I’m] having to do everything from bandaging up a patient that opened up his head and started bleeding and didn’t want to go to emerg — all the way to talking someone down from committing suicide. And that’s just me. My colleagues have plenty of stories,” said Toronto pharmacist Kyrollos Maseh. Kelly Grindrod, an associate professor in the school of pharmacy at the University of Waterloo, has said that many pharmacists are feeling overwhelmed. “On the one hand, pharmacists are so happy to be there for their patients, to be on the front line to provide that support. On the other hand … I think there’s a lot of exhaustion and burnout,” Grindrod said.

Preventing suicide during the COVID-19 pandemicThe Review
April 13, 2020
According to the World Health Organization and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE):
“A pandemic can significantly increase the severity of anxiety symptoms including: excessive fears of external threats, panic attacks and avoidance, restlessness, worrying, physical sensations (heart racing, sweating, etc.), irritability, difficulty concentrating.” People with underlying mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or depression, may experience a worsening of their symptoms. SAVE suggests “limit exposure to the news and only rely on credible sources of information… check in more frequently with those living with a mental health issue… know the warning signs of suicide… offer to help with (the) basic needs (of someone living with a mental health issue),” and “restrict access to lethal means of suicide” by “safely storing medications, ensuring firearms are safely stored or removed and keeping ropes/cords safely stored.”

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