Moving Through Suicidal Thoughts in a World that Isn’t Moving: Surviving Suicide During a Pandemic

It seems like just a couple of sleeps ago we were all going through our lives as normal – rushing from one thing to another, stressed about schedules and conflicts and our never-ending To Do Lists. And then one day we all wake up in a world of stay-at-home orders and “social distancing” (let’s call it physical distancing) where we’re not allowed to see our friends, our families, or even the annoying person at the office that we’re all now finding ourselves desperately missing.

When our worlds shift almost overnight, from hustle and bustle to radio silence, it’s not surprising that we’re all feeling shaken. Once we settle into what has unwelcomingly become our “new normal,” panic comes knocking. Enter fear, sadness, grief, worry, and uncertainty – the unwelcome stars of the pandemic.

The risk of contracting and spreading the coronavirus and its potential impact on our physical health doesn’t have the monopoly on fear. No, now we must also wrestle with the reality that our mental health is at risk too. We’ve never before had to balance anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts without our emotional outlets that work for us, but that is exactly what is being required of us amidst our community and state shut-downs; our gyms, our restaurants, even our jobs and our bars – some of these not only serving as our social outlets but also our livelihoods – are gone with no replacement.

Friends, I’m concerned about suicide becoming an option for more people as this pandemic carries on. I’m concerned about you and your loved ones. I’m concerned about the people society often forgets about. I’m especially concerned about those struggling with chronic health conditions, those at risk for unemployment, the elderly, the single parents, and those isolated from their families and loved ones. I’m concerned about the children and about the men and women who are now quarantined at home with their abusers. I’m concerned about the LGBTQ+ teens who are now stuck behind four walls with the families who don’t accept them. We have lost our personal communities in a matter of weeks. Gun sales have soared (please store your guns safely) and social isolation is the highest it has ever been in modern history. Life in the coronavirus pandemic is the brewing storm for thoughts of suicide.

There is a lot of despair these days so it comes as no surprise that crisis lines are seeing record numbers of people reaching out. But – and here’s the stop – people are reaching out.

Zoom and other video platforms have also seen record numbers of downloads and new users. People are craving social interactions and are creating them wherever they are (see: here and here). We’re having happy hours and play dates and extracurriculars over webcams. We’re creating and joining online support groups. We’re reconnecting to the outdoors. We’re calling these crisis lines and people are answering. We’re checking in on our neighbors and our loved ones.

Now it’s time to check in on ourselves:

            What am I craving?

            What do I need?

            Who makes me smile and how can I connect with them?

            Who can I talk to about my honest thoughts when (not if) things are hard?

In a world that shoves “social distancing” in our faces, let’s push back on the notion and increase our social connections. Let’s acknowledge our own feelings and know that whatever we’re feeling is ok—even if our social media highlight reels attempt to tell us otherwise. We don’t have to come out of this with a new skill, increased knowledge, or as a new version of ourselves. Let’s just commit to coming out of this pandemic together.

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Further Reading

How to Prevent Social Isolation from Making Loneliness Worse by Brian W. Simpson, MPH: Editor-in-chief of Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine and Global Health NOW.

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If you’re hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can’t feel it—and you are worth your life.

You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you don’t like talking on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

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