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:

Fear and Isolation May Not Actually Bring a Rise in Suicides Slate
April 13, 2020
In this article, written in response to US President Trump’s assertion that suicide rates will increase as a result of COVID-19, authors Emmy Betz, an associate professor of emergency medicine and Jessica Gold, MD, MS, assistant professor in psychiatry, argue that we may not see an increase in the American suicide rate. “We do know financial strain might be correlated to depression and suicide, and that some cope with stress by turning to substances, which is also a risk factor for suicide. But we don’t yet have data about whether these associations are true during COVID-19. Anecdotally, it might actually be the opposite,” say authors, and, “Some people have anecdotally been doing better in self-isolation. They have been able to take time for self-care, to manage their own schedule and sleep, and to get back to exercise.” The authors also acknowledge that it’s important to talk about mental health and focus on coping techniques, as well as to address risk factors for suicide including isolation and substance use. They also believe the narrative, particularly in the US, should be shifted towards hope and away from despair.

Why suicide risk may increase as we cope with COVID-19Mashable
April 11, 2020
A new article published by Mark A. Reger, and Ian H. Stanley, psychologists with VA Puget Sound Health Care System, and Thomas E. Joiner, professor of psychology at Florida State University examines the factors that could lead to an increase in suicides during and following the COVID-19 pandemic. Firearms are the most common method of suicide in the US, and sales have seen record highs. Healthcare workers already have higher rates of suicide, and many are coping with increased anxiety. Loneliness and self isolation are associated with thoughts of suicide and economic downturns with a higher rate of suicide. Julie Cerel, a suicide exposure researcher at the University of Kentucky said that the COVID-19 outbreak, “isn’t necessarily going to lead to a huge increase in suicides, but we need to be cognizant of what we can do in order to minimize that impact in people who are isolated and whose lives have been really negatively affected by…the pandemic.”

Viewpoint: Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019—A Perfect Storm?JAMA Psychiatry
April 10, 2020
Suicide rates in the US have been on the rise for the past 20 years, and “concerning disease models have led to historic and unprecedented public health actions to curb the spread of (COVID-19). While these steps are expected to reduce the rate of new infections, the potential for adverse outcomes on suicide risk is high,” say authors of this Viewpoint article in JAMA Psychiatry, suicide researchers Thomas Joiner, PhD, Mark Reger, PhD and Ian Stanley, MS. Some of these adverse outcomes include “economic stress, social isolation, decreased access to community and religious support, barriers to mental health treatment, exacerbated illness and medical problems, healthcare professional suicide rates, and increased firearm sales.” But authors say there is opportunity for suicide prevention, including by physically distancing ourselves while ensuring social relationships are maintained. Tele-mental health services are another form of suicide prevention that can be utilized during the pandemic, as well as an increase in access to mental health care for those working in healthcare settings. Other distance-based suicide prevention methods used in the past include telephone based interventions with people having thoughts of suicide and caring letters of encouragement sent to those who have considered suicide. 

‘We Carry That Burden.’ Medical Workers Fighting COVID-19 Are Facing a Mental Health CrisisTIME
April 10, 2020
The mental health of healthcare workers is being affected by the COVID-19 outbreak for several reasons, including anxiety that they’ll bring the virus home to their loved ones and “moral injury” from not treating patients with the care they believe is medically necessary due to a shortage of protective equipment. Experts suggest we do more to support their mental health at this time, such as ensuring they have the necessary equipment. Many healthcare workers do report feelings of camaraderie in this time of crisis, according to Monica, a critical care doctor in New York City who herself was diagnosed with COVID-19:  “There has been a real feeling of, everybody’s in the trenches together. What I’ve been most amazed about is people have really risen to that call.”

Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier work continues during coronavirus pandemic Mercury News
April 9, 2020
Construction of the suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, will continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.  “The net will save about 30 lives a year, so it qualifies as an exempt project under the orders,” said Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, public affairs manager for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. The construction site will maintain the same crew sizes as usual but with a “new jobsite health and safety plan that follows… latest public health orders.”

Canadian Armed Forces says 20 service members died by suicide in 2019 Globe and Mail
April 8, 2020
Canadian Armed Forces published figures on their website in January to show that there were 20 member suicides last year. This is an increase of 5 since 2018, and the highest number of suicides that have been reported since 2014 when 23 members died. Gender breakdowns were not provided, but an analysis will be published later this year. The Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Canada implemented a suicide prevention strategy in 2017, which included training personnel how to respond to someone exhibiting suicide warning signs and introducing new measures to ease transition into civilian life.

Netflix to launch weekly Instagram Live series about coping during the COVID-19 pandemicTech Crunch
April 8, 2020
Netflix is launching an Instagram series focusing on how to take care of mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every Thursday from now until May 14 on the @Netflix Instagram account, different actors in series aimed at young adults will talk about the challenges they’re facing and how they’re coping. Actors will also talk to mental health experts from partner organizations including the Trevor Project and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

US suicide rate climbs 35% since 1999, new report findsCNN
April 8, 2020
A new report by the US National Center for Health Statistics has found a 35% increase in the American suicide rate since 1999, averaging an increase of about 0.8% per year until 2006, when rates increased by 2.1% per year. Rural regions tended to have higher suicide rates than urban areas, and males died by suicide more often than females. 

Opinion: On Coronavirus Lockdown? Look for Meaning, Not Happiness New York Times
April 7, 2020
A new poll has found that 45% of Americans feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. This opinion article raises the question, “Is there anything people can do to cope with the emotional fallout of this confusing and challenging time?” Those who practice “tragic optimism” tend to fare better than those who seek pure happiness during times of adversity. This term, coined by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, means to maintain hope and find meaning in life despite its suffering. After a crisis, many studies have found that people “acquire a newfound sense of purpose, develop deeper relationships, have a greater appreciation of life and report other benefits.” This author notes that “it’s not the adversity itself that leads to growth. It’s how people respond to it.” Searching for meaning doesn’t bring happiness, often the things that bring meaning are stressful and require effort, however, these efforts are rewarded by feelings of enrichment, inspiration, and being a part of something greater than oneself, according to research.

She just started sobbing’: Parents struggle to help kids cope with COVID-19 anxietyCBC
April 7, 2020
Kids Help Phone is reporting that calls have doubled each week since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most calls are related to fear, and 20% of callers reached out because they had thoughts of suicide. Leanne Matlow is a cognitive behavioural counsellor who specializes in child and adolescent anxiety says, “It’s OK to be angry, frustrated, scared, nervous, worried. So the question is, what can I do for myself when I’m feeling that way? What can we do for each other in this house when one of us is feeling that way?” Matlow says that to ease the fears of children, listening is key. She also advises avoiding calling the circumstances prompted by the pandemic “the new normal”: “For many people, just saying this is the new normal is very anxiety-provoking, because it makes it sound like it’s a state of permanence. That we’re never going to get out of it. I like the phrase ‘for now.’  It’s more of thinking about putting a pause button.”

CBC News poll: Albertans were already anxious. Then, the floor dropped out – CBC
April 3, 2020
CBC News polled Albertans before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, market crash and oil wars and found that they were already feeling anxious – 63% said they were expecting the economy to get worse, and that response increased to 79% after the COVID-19 outbreak. “We’re dealing with a combination of a health crisis and an economic crisis simultaneously. It would be as if you had the Spanish flu and the Great Depression happening at the same time,” said Duane Bratt, head of the department of economics, justice, and policy studies at Mount Royal University.

Italian doctors’ fatalities reach tragic levels as they fight COVID-19 in overburdened hospitalsGlobe and Mail
April 3, 2020
Italian hospital workers, who experienced a shortage of high-quality personal protective equipment, make up about 8% of Italy’s approximately 120,000 COVID-19 cases. 74 doctors have died in Italy as a result of COVID-19, most in their 60s, and two Italian nurses have died by suicide.

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