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:

‘Heartbreaking’: Suicide rates expected to rise as COVID-19 grinds onCalgary Herald
April 25, 2020
The psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as unprecedented levels of unemployment, may worsen existing mental health conditions and, potentially, lead to an increase in suicides. Existing literature has found increases in suicide following traumatic events. “It’s just heartbreaking. Typically, what we see is initially the suicide rate goes down because there is a sense of solidarity and we’re all in this together … and then as it goes on people exhaust their personal resources and then the suicide rate starts to go up,” said Mara Grunau, executive director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention. Grunau says we can cope with uneasy feelings by finding meaning, purpose, hope and belonging in our lives: “What brings you meaning? What drives your purpose in life? What gives you hope and where do you have a sense of belonging? Try to look at those four core fundamental human needs and see where they fit for you.”

Crisis lines face volunteer, cash crunch even as COVID-19 drives surge in calls Canadian Press
April 27, 2020
Many crisis lines across Canada are experiencing heightened demand, as well as an increase in more urgent crisis calls. Crisis Services Canada (CSC), the national crisis line, has compiled stats to show that there have been 30-50% more crisis calls since the pandemic started. Stephanie MacKendrick, CEO of CSC, says, “In the pandemic we have discovered very quickly how important (distress centres) are and I think the realization has hit of how vulnerable that sector is. By intervening and having someone to talk to, it keeps people out of emergency rooms, it reduces the calls to 911 to bring in emergency services, and in a pandemic, that’s especially important.” Mara Grunau, executive director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention said research shows that initially in a crisis suicide rates will go down, but the cumulative effects lead to increases in suicides up to 1.5 years later. “We’re nervous,” says Grunau. “It’s wonderful that the government has come out with all kinds of programs to help people with their physical needs. … But once people’s food and shelter have been taken care of, I think we’re going to see a giant emergence in people’s mental health needs. And I think what the distress centres and crisis lines are seeing is it’s already starting, it’s already emerging.” 

COVID-19 Canada: Troops urged to seek help as use of mental-health services hits ‘all-time low’ Calgary Herald
April 26, 2020
In an open letter, Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance is encouraging troops to seek mental health help if they’re struggling. His call comes as use of mental health services for military personnel has reached an all time low, and just months after the Canadian Armed Forces reported 20 member suicides in 2019, the largest number of member suicides since 2014. Canadian Armed Forces members have been ordered to isolate at home to remain healthy for when they are called upon.

Tips to deal with stress and anxiety as week seven of COVID-19 measures begins CTV
April 26, 2020
The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and the Mental Health Commission of Canada have released tips for Canadians to manage stress and reduce harm related to alcohol, cannabis, and other substances during the pandemic. Some signs of stress and anxiety include: “struggling with decisions, consuming more alcohol, cannabis, or other substances more than usual, difficulty sleeping and difficulty concentrating”, among others. People can cope with stress and anxiety by: staying active and busy, staying connected, finding balance, being kind to themselves and reaching out for help when it’s needed. Coping strategies suggested for health-care workers (that could be useful to anyone) include: “accept and validate your feelings, recognize what’s in your control, remember that this is temporary…, take care of your health… monitor your substance use.”

‘It’s horrific. It really is’: The suicide deaths of two teens in care raise questions about child welfare in OntarioAPTN
April 24, 2020
*Method warning* Devon Freeman, 16, and Tyra Williams-Dorey, 17 both died by suicide while in care at the Lynwood Charlton Centre, a group home licensed by the government of Ontario. Freeman died in October 2017, Williams-Dorey in March 2015. Now family members are raising questions about the facility and the system at-large. In both cases, information was withheld from families. For example, Freeman’s his family was informed he was missing from the group home two whole weeks after his disappearance. Williams-Dorey’s family just received her suicide note and a sketch of her suicide plan – five years after her death. Circumstances surrounding their deaths are also being questioned. Nygel Dorey, Williams-Dorey’s father, is questioning why his daughter was left alone the day she died, because she had told her social worker she was planning to die by suicide earlier on that same day. Freeman’s family was told that group home workers searched the grounds of the group home for his body, but it wasn’t until 6 months later that he was found. “Apparently they did say they searched the grounds, that’s what I was told,” Freeman’s grandmother, Pamela Freeman, says. “But after seeing the photographs of the place, I thought, there’s no way you could have missed him.” A public inquiry will be taking place into the death of Devon Freeman, though a date has not yet been set.

Covid-19 and suicide: an uncertain connection
April 22, 2020
Suicide is complex, and there is never any one factor that will cause someone to take their life. And while it is possible that the psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to more suicides, this increase can be prevented. Many cities and towns are showing solidarity by cheering for health care workers and those working in other essential services. Isolation has meant some people have more time to connect with others, and there is a renewed focus on the importance of sharing emotions and maintaining mental health. It is hoped, by the author of this article, that the pandemic may lead to improved medical and public health infrastructure in the US, as issues, such as racial and socioeconomic disparities, are being highlighted.

Comment: Suicide risk and prevention during the COVID-19 pandemicLancet Psychiatry
April 21, 2020
Suicide is likely to become an issue as long-term effects of the pandemic become apparent on the population, the economy, and vulnerable groups, therefore, we must consider how to prevent suicides now.  There is some evidence that in the US, during the 1918-19 flu pandemic and in Hong Kong during the 2003 SARS epidemic, there were increases in suicide. This article points out that “The current context is different and evolving. A wide-ranging interdisciplinary response that recognises how the pandemic might heighten risk and applies knowledge about effective suicide prevention approaches is key. Selective, indicated, and universal interventions are required.” Authors suggest, “The likely adverse effects of the pandemic on people with mental illness, and on population mental health in general, might be exacerbated by fear, self-isolation, and physical distancing. Suicide risk might be increased because of stigma towards individuals with COVID-19 and their families. Those with psychiatric disorders might experience worsening symptoms and others might develop new mental health problems… these mental health problems will be experienced by the general population and those with high levels of exposure to illness caused by COVID-19, such as frontline health-care workers and those who develop the illness.”

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect suicide rates?The Hill
April 22, 2020
A new report released this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) raised concerns about an increase in suicides as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing economic stress, social isolation, medical problems and other factors as potential issues. “Concerning disease models have led to historic and unprecedented public health actions to curb the spread of the virus. Remarkable social distancing interventions have been implemented to fundamentally reduce human contact. While these steps are expected to reduce the rate of new infections, the potential for adverse outcomes on suicide risk is high,” states the JAMA report, which also stresses the emphasized need for enhanced suicide prevention efforts. Past large-scale disasters have shown a reduction in suicide rates, at least in the time immediately following the disaster: “There may be a silver lining to the current situation. Suicide rates have declined in the period after past national disasters (eg., the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks). One hypothesis is the so-called pulling-together effect, whereby individuals undergoing a shared experience might support one another, thus strengthening social connectedness.” The report also acknowledges that, “Recent advancements in technology (eg., video conferencing) might facilitate pulling together. Epidemics and pandemics may also alter one’s views on health and mortality, making life more precious, death more fearsome, and suicide less likely.” 

Coronavirus: Calgary mental health services want you to reach out, be self-compassionateGlobal
April 21, 2020
Distress Centre Calgary has seen a 22% increase in calls relating to suicide during the pandemic. Robyn Romano, director of operations says, “In 2019, an average of 15 per cent of our contacts were related to loneliness and isolation. Now, that’s averaging about 40 to 50 per cent every week and has overtaken anxiety and depression as our number one call issue that we are seeing on the lines. That makes sense with a lot of the physical distancing that’s going on.” Romano is encouraging people to “check in on each other, check in on ourselves and just get people connected with that support — so biggest message if you need some help and support, reach out. And if you don’t need it right now, reach out to somebody in your life that may.”

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