“Socially distancing doesn’t mean we are emotionally distancing.”
Many, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have raised concern about the long-term effects of isolation across all ages. Specifically, concerns have been raised about the potential for increased suicides. Suicide prevention experts say it’s reasonable to think the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to increased suicide risk for certain populations. CEO of LSF Health Systems and clinical psychologist, Dr. Christine Cauffield shares how important it is to find balance as a community in protecting the spread of the virus but also having an enhanced focus on mental health.
Dr. Cauffield explains that increased isolation can be a trigger for those already struggling with mental health problems, but she says there is hope in connection. And to remember that just because we are socially distancing doesn’t mean we are emotionally distancing.
While facing COVID-19, she reminds us that it’s important to get creative with how we communicate and show support to one another. Connection is key to combating isolation, and thankfully, we live in a day and age where there are more ways to connect than ever before. Dr. Cauffield believes people who receive support – even virtual support – from caring friends and family, and those who have access to mental health services are much less likely to act on their suicidal impulses.
The easiest way to check in on someone who you think may be struggling is to pick up the phone – whether it’s a traditional call or a video chat. Try setting up regular calls with your loved ones so that they have a time to look forward to connecting with you every day. This is also a key time to gauge their mindset and behavior and potentially ask some of those more difficult questions.
Another way to connect, is sending a meal to someone’s doorstep. While you may not be able to go out to a restaurant together, a surprise meal delivery may brighten someone’s day and it also expresses love and concern. The CDC says it does not believe the virus can spread through food but ensure the driver and your loved one take appropriate precautions and employ contactless delivery if possible.
Dr. Cauffield shares warning signs that a loved one may be thinking about suicide and adds that during this challenging time, it’s important to be in tune with any concerning behavioral changes.
Signs a loved one may be thinking about suicide:
- Extreme or unusual agitation or calm
- Excessive drinking or drug use
- Talking about wanting to end their lives
- Saying goodbye to others
- Giving away belongings
If you feel a loved one is suicidal, Dr. Cauffield says to start a conversation expressing concern and asking questions. It’s important to remember that talking about suicide does not cause someone to take their life. You can be sensitive, but also direct by asking:
- How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
- Do you ever feel like just giving up?
- Are you thinking about dying?
- Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
- Are you thinking about suicide?
- Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?
If you find yourself struggling with suicidal thoughts, give yourself some distance between thoughts and actions.
- Make a promise to yourself, “I will wait 24 hours, or one week, and I won’t do anything drastic during that time.”
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Suicidal thoughts can become even stronger when you take drugs or drink.
- Make your home safe. Remove things you can use to hurt yourself such as pills, knives and firearms.
- Share your feelings with someone you trust and let them know how bad things are. Don’t let fear or shame prevent you from seeking help. You can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.