THE PAN AMERICAN Health Organisation says workers in the healthcare system have been especially negatively affected by the covid19 pandemic – in terms of exacerbating suicide risk factors.
The PAHO urges people to speak about the issue “in an open and responsible manner, remain connected during physical distancing, and learn to identify warning signs to prevent it.”
PAHO head of mental health and substance abuse Renato Oliveira De Souza said, “We still don’t know how increased depression, domestic violence or substance use will impact suicide rates in the region, but it’s important to take a minute to talk about it, support each other in these pandemic times, and know the warning signs of suicide to help prevent it.”
Data from recent studies, PAHO said, shows an increase in distress, anxiety and depression, particular among health care workers.
“These, in addition to violence, alcohol use disorders, substance abuse, and feelings of loss,” he said, “are important factors that can increase a person’s risk of deciding to take their own lives.
“We still don’t know how increased depression, domestic violence or substance use will impact suicide rates in the region, but it’s important to take a minute to talk about it, support each other in these pandemic times, and know the warning signs of suicide to help prevent it.”
Every September 10, since 2003, the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organisation (WHO) collaborate to promote World Suicide Prevention Day. This year, the theme is Working Together to Prevent Suicide.
An estimated 100,000 lives in the Americas are claimed to suicide annually according to 2016 data. Thirty-six percent of suicides occur in people between the age of 25 and 44, and 26 per cent for those between the age of 45 and 59. PAHO says Guyana and Suriname have the highest suicide rates in the region.
Men account for a staggering 78 per cent of suicides worldwide.
PAHO says three times as many men than women are killed in high-income countries, but in low-income and middle-income countries, the rate is 1.5 men for each woman.
“This 2020, we find ourselves in very unexpected and challenging circumstances as we face the covid-19 pandemic. The impact of the new coronavirus has probably had an effect on everyone’s mental well-being. And that’s why this year, more than ever, it’s crucial that we work together to prevent suicide,” Oliveira De Souza said.
Suicide warning signs
PAHO says that most suicides are preceded by verbal or behavioural warning signs such as talking about: wanting to die, feeling great guilt or shame, or feeling a burden on others. Other signs are feeling empty, hopeless, trapped, or with no reason to live; feeling extremely sad, anxious, agitated, or full of anger; or with unbearable pain, whether emotional or physical.
Also, behavioural changes such as making a plan or researching ways to die; staying away from friends, saying goodbye, giving away important items or making a will; doing very risky things like driving at extreme speed; showing extreme mood swings; eating or sleeping too much or too little; using drugs or alcohol more often. All these can be warning signs of suicide.
Suicide prevention interventions
Suicide can be prevented and effective interventions are available. On a personal level, early detection and treatment of depression and alcohol use disorders are critical to suicide prevention, as well as follow-up contact with those who have tried suicide and psychosocial support in communities. If a person detects warning signs of suicide themselves or in someone they know, they should seek help from a health care professional as soon as possible.
PAHO wrote, “Removing barriers to access to mental health care, limiting access to the means to commit suicide, providing truthful and appropriate information on the subject in the media, as well as reducing the stigma associated with seeking help can also help reduce suicide.”
The organisation says it is working with regional states to strengthen health systems that may be under-resourced or overburdened by the pandemic to address the potential increase in new and pre-existing mental mental health cases, and to maintain continuity of care for people with mental health and substance use problems.