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:

Hope, belonging, meaning and purposeCentre for Suicide Prevention
May 4, 2020
We are hearing a lot about mental health promotion these days. Self-care, reaching out to others, maintaining your routine … the checklist seems endless. Do these actions have merit? Do they reduce suicide and promote mental health? Over the coming weeks, we will release blog posts about various suicide prevention actions that can be taken during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll ground these actions in hope, belonging, meaning and, purpose – universal human needs. The First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum, a framework developed by Thunderbird Partnership Foundation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners including Health Canada, describes and explains these four aspects in action, and how aligning them brings wholeness. Our first blog post introduces the themes of hope, belonging, meaning and purpose as integral to suicide prevention.
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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.” 

Opinion: What One Doctor’s Suicide Taught Us New York Times
May 3, 2020
This opinion piece urges us to be especially attentive to the mental health needs of first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic – “They’re at a far greater risk for post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, and major depression than the average civilian. Yet seeing themselves as vulnerable is disruptive — antithetical, even — to their self-concept. They’re the healers in this equation, not the ones who need to be healed.”

What do we really know about suicide risk in the pandemic? Toronto Star
May 2, 2020
In addition to news stories about people who have taken their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, many crisis lines have reported an increase in calls. However, suicide is complex and there is never any one reason a person will die by suicide. “I really understand why people want to make a direct line to cause when they know something about someone,” said Dr. Tyler Black, a psychiatrist and suicide expert at B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. “But suicide is so much more complex than that.” And while an increase in crisis calls does not necessarily equate to an increase in suicides, “…We do know that people who are underserviced, underprivileged and disadvantaged are going to have tremendous problems in the next few months, and we need to support those people,” says Black.

Warning over ‘hidden effect of coronavirus’ after grandfather’s suicide
April 30, 2020
Dennis Ward, 82, died by suicide last week in the UK. His grandson James Parnaby is encouraging people to reach out to their loved ones, especially those who are vulnerable and in self-isolation. “If you are reading this, I ask you all today, to just pick up the phone to your parents, grandparents, friends or anyone vulnerable to check up on them and ask if they are OK and are coping. I never got the chance to speak to him as I thought he would be OK and would see him on the other side,” Parnaby said.

Dozens of officials want the government to establish “9-8-8” as the new “9-1-1” for mental health crises.Nextgov
April 29, 2020
Last week, American congress was pushed to include legislation in the next COVID-19 relief package to establish 9-8-8 as a national crisis line number. “As our country is working together to address this virus, it is crucial that mental health support is at the forefront of all of our minds,” wrote several federal officials in a letter to top members of the Senate and House of Representatives. “The creation of this three-digit dialing code is essential in order to address the growing suicide crisis across the United States.”

Mental Health Commission launches free mental health tools for essential workers –  CTV
April 28, 2020
Last week the Mental Health Commission of Canada released three free online mental health programs for essential workers. The three programs cover: Caring for yourself, caring for your team, and caring for others. These programs will train up to 500 people per week and include information such as how to recognize the signs of mental health issues.

New York ER doctor who treated virus patients dies by suicideNew York Times
April 27, 2020
Dr. Lorna Breen, medical director of the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, died by suicide last week. Breen had contracted COVID-19 and, after recovering, went back to work. Breen’s father, Dr. Philip Breen, said she seemed detached in the days leading up to her death, and had described to him the patients she saw who were dying before they could be taken out of ambulance. Breen’s hospital saw up to 170 patients with coronavirus at one time, with 59 of those patients having died. “She was truly in the trenches of the front line,” said Breen’s father. “Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was. She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died.”

Correspondence: COVID-19, unemployment, and suicideLancet Psychiatry
April 27, 2020
This correspondence piece in the Lancet Psychiatry highlights new analysis that is being used to predict the effects of the expected rise in unemployment due to COVID-19 on suicide rates globally. Authors say, “Data from the economic crisis of 2008 showed that the increase in suicides preceded the actual rise in the unemployment rate. We therefore expect an extra burden for our mental health system, and the medical community should prepare for this challenge now. Mental health providers should also raise awareness in politics and society that rising unemployment is associated with an increased number of suicides. The downsizing of the economy and the focus of the medical system on the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to unintended long-term problems for a vulnerable group on the fringes of society. It is important that various services, such as hotlines and psychiatric services, remain able to respond appropriately.”

Correspondence: Suicide prevention during the COVID-19 outbreak Lancet Psychiatry
April 27, 2020
This correspondence piece published by the Lancet Psychiatry suggests that we will likely see an increase in suicide ideation and behaviour among certain populations, and that the mental health community should be prepared and “use this challenging period to advance suicide prevention. First, people are currently more able than in the past to talk about depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation… Second, people now understand the importance of social support in times of crises and tend to agree that it saves lives. Finally, people at risk for suicide can now get psychological help online, which might be more accessible for various reasons.”

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