Posted on October 11 2020
SUICIDE PREVENTION, MENTAL HEALTH DURING COVID
By Bailey Schneider
CONTENT WARNING: Suicide, mental health, COVID, houselessness
As I closed the chapter on 2019, like a lot of people, I braced myself for the onslaught of ‘New Year, New Me” posts that were sure to be flooding my newsfeed. The new year is often tough on my self-esteem. With everyone setting goals and embarking on tumultuous journeys of self-betterment, I often find myself comparing every aspect of my life to others. I decided this year would be different but, man, I don’t think any of us were prepared for just how different it would be.
COVID-19 THREW A WRENCH INTO MY PLANS TO SIMPLY 'DO MY BEST' THIS YEAR.
While my daily life was thrown by the wayside as classes went online, my job was lost, and every semblance of a routine I had built up the last few years crumbled before my eyes, I found it really hard to keep my grip. There were so many unknowns; questions unanswered, opportunities dashed. I wasn’t sure what the future would look like. On top of that, like many, I suffer from clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder.
Up until COVID-19 hit, I felt I was managing my symptoms well with medication and routine.
COVID-19 CHANGED MY PLANS, AND IT'S OKAY IF IT CHANGED YOURS TOO.
At first, I was afraid to accept the reality of the world during the pandemic, and I wanted to continue believing that I had a perfect handle on the symptoms of my mental illness. Living through this terrifying and uncertain time would be peaches, cream, and baking bread (oh my gosh, I’ve baked so much bread). I plunged headfirst into Zoom calls and embroidery, picked up the book I’ve been ‘reading’ for three years, and did some customary online shopping. After all, I needed this break from the stresses of daily life. A forced COVID-19 ‘vacation’ would be fun, right?
Well, as one might guess, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Part of my treatment that desperately requires routine, and the panic and uncertainty of living through quarantine started to take its toll. And I started to drown. In unprecedented times like this one, those of us with mental health struggles have to adapt to not only the strangeness of the times but to a complete overhaul of the routines that keep us healthy. We have to find hope in the small things. Maybe it’s the fact that we did the dishes today or maybe we took a walk with our pets.
IT'S OK IF ALL WE'VE DONE THIS PANDEMIC IS SURVIVE IT.
But, no matter how much we adapt and get connected back with our therapists or show off how great we’re doing on social media, it’s ok if all we’ve done this pandemic is survive it.
That’s right. We don’t have to come out of this pandemic as a super-athlete, sourdough expert, or photography aficionado. It’s okay if our victories right now look like our average daily routines.
It’s also okay if we’re mourning the loss of what this year was ‘supposed’ to be. Whether we couldn’t walk at our graduations, lost out on job opportunities, or had to change our wedding plans; it’s okay to take the time to be angry and sad over it.
But how do we reconcile with the guilt over our seemingly petty sadness? This pandemic has taken people’s lives from them. How dare we hurt over something as simple as a loss of routine? Isn’t that selfish?
To that, I say, there’s space enough for both.
In order to get through this, we have to open up to let the hurt of loss both in the traditional and non-traditional sense live alongside each other within ourselves. We have to pay attention to our wants and needs. We have to search for hope and reconciliation wherever we can find it. We have to look out for not only each other’s survival but our own as well.
IT MAY SEEM SELFISH, BUT WE HAVE TO PROTECT OURSELVES WITH THE SAME FEROCITY WITH WHICH WE PROTECT OUR LOVED ONES.
For those of us with mental health struggles, this can look like a lot of things. It could mean advocating for yourself with mental health professionals, setting reminders on our phones to eat meals, checking in with friends, or reaching out to our support systems for reminders that there is still hope and love in the world, no matter how scary it may be.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Though every day is a good day to break the stigma and start the important conversation about mental health, this month draws attention to the gathering of resources and support for that cause.
ONE OF THE BEST THINGS WE CAN DO FOR EACH OTHER IS TO LOOK AFTER OUR COMMUNITY.
There are many ways to get involved. One way to help is by sending in a donation to a nonprofit like Hope for the Day, To Write Love on Her Arms, or even your local NAMI chapter.
But what if you can’t make a donation? Getting involved in suicide prevention on a budget is easy and can be free. One of the best things we can do for each other is to look after our community. This can be as easy as looking after a friend or knowing the signs of suicidal ideation/thoughts and starting the conversation about mental health.
I challenge everyone reading this to join me in knowing the signs of suicidal behavior. Much like knowing the signs of a physical ailment like stroke or heart attack, knowing the behaviors of a person struggling with suicidal behavior can be life-saving.
- withdrawing from activities,
- agitated mood,
- calling loved ones to say goodbye,
- giving away possessions,
- talking about feelings of hopelessness, and
- increasingly reckless behavior.
Once we know these signs, we can more effectively reach out to and help those we love who may be struggling with these feelings.
IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
The next step in effective suicide prevention is to ‘end the stigma’. That phrase flies around the internet a lot, so I’ll break it down here. The ‘stigma’ is a negative stereotype of what people with mental health struggles look or act like. Some examples of things that perpetuate the stigma are movies and books that portray those with mental health struggles as ‘crazy’ or ‘evil’. The Joker, one of Batman’s many nemeses, is a prime example of this. Or Norman Bates from the film, “Psycho.” The stigma also shows its head by continuing to pass around the idea that we should be able to ‘handle it ourselves’ or that ‘therapy is for people who need serious help and are crazy, not me’. This stigma ultimately keeps people from seeking a life-altering and/or life-saving treatment or diagnoses.
ACCORDING TO THE NATIONAL ALLIANCE ON MENTAL ILLNESS, 1 IN 5 ADULTS HAS A MENTAL ILLNESS AND 90% OF PEOPLE WHO DIE BY SUICIDE HAVE ONE.
Do you see the correlation? With so many people experiencing mental illness and even more of those people passing on as a result of this stigma, isn’t it time - especially now, in 2020 - for us to do something?
And, while working on a personal level, it is also important that we work on a global scale as well.
The third step is addressing and working to change the underlying stressors that contribute to the overall picture of mental health. We should fight for basic housing and healthcare needs to be met for all people.
1 IN 5 TRANSGENDER PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DISCRIMINATED AGAINST IN SEARCH OF A HOME
According to a study by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2015, people experiencing houselessness were disproportionately affected by mental health problems. We have to address this issue and should keep it at the forefront of our discussions about mental health, especially during COVID-19.
Houselessness disproportionately affects other marginalized identities and the intersections between them, too. 1 in 5 transgender people have been discriminated against in search of a home, and according to the same Urban Development study, 40 percent of people experiencing houslessness are black.
THE INTERSECTIONS BETWEEN MENTAL ILLNESS, HOUSELESSNESS, AND OTHER MARGINALIZED IDENTITIES SHOULD BE AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE SUICIDE PREVENTION CONVERSATIONS, ESPECIALLY NOW.
In times like these, community aid is crucial. Putting pressure on legislators to address houselessness and its intersections with mental illness is suicide prevention. Donating to charities that directly aid POC and their communities is suicide prevention. Looking out for marginilized identities and centering them in our de-stigmatization conversations is suicide prevention.
And I know this year’s National Suicide Prevention Month is the strangest yet. This pandemic has made everything strange and unclear, and it’s hard to find the motivation to do much of anything. But hope can still be a powerful tool in our arsenals. Working towards a community where we all look out for one another and end the stigma on mental health is a future we can look forward to.
WE CAN STILL DO OUR BEST THIS YEAR BY LOOKING OUT FOR OURSELVES AND OUR COMMUNITY.
Plans may be changing before our eyes and the world may seem dim, but choosing to put ourselves at the top of our lists can change this whole situation for the better. If we all work to care for ourselves and mutually work to protect one another, we can fight the isolation and pain that comes with the territory of COVID-19. We can advocate for better preventative care for all people and break the stigma of mental health by knowing the signs and starting the conversation about suicide. We can reach out to our friends when they lose loved ones. We can be the designated socially-distanced grocery runner for a sick friend. Or we can even be the person who spreads a positive message online to show others they aren’t going through this alone. We can unite in our self-love and survive this pandemic even though it may be taking a lot from and out of us.
We can still do our best this year.
Maybe we won’t be rocking it at a New York City internship or completing a triathlon, but we will have a lot to show for this year by the way we choose to care for ourselves and our community. We can and will continue to make strides with our personal growth and in turn, inspire others to be kinder to themselves.
For more information and resources on mental health and suicide prevention, or to participate in National Suicide Prevention Month, visit the following: