People’s mental health has been taking a collective toll in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Along with the tens of thousands of deaths happening across the world, the virus has caused economic struggles due to businesses closing indefinitely and major events being pushed back or canceled altogether. Such stressors have caused suicide reports to surface around the globe along with an increase in suicide calls across the U.S.
In Italy, a 34-year-old nurse committed suicide after learning she tested positive for the coronavirus. She was terrified that she infected others while in the line of duty according to DailyMail.com. In the U.K., a 19-year-old waitress committed suicide over fears of the “mental health impacts” from isolation due to the coronavirus, according to The New York Post. A few days before she was found unresponsive, the teen warned relatives that she couldn’t deal with “her world closing in, plans being canceled and being stuck inside” during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the U.S., things have been just as bleak with the New York Post reporting a man with cancer hanging himself in a Manhattan hospital after he realized he tested positive for the coronavirus.
Los Angeles is one place that witnessed an increase in suicide crisis hotline calls according to DailyMail.com. Didi Hirsch’s Suicide Crisis Line has received more than 1,500 calls about the coronavirus in March, which is 75 times more than the previous month. Didi Hirsch operates one of the largest suicide line call centers in the United States and they warned that the number of calls would grow exponentially over the next couple of weeks as people confront the realities of lost loved ones and lost jobs.
The group told DailyMail.com that the top concerns among callers have been anxiety, stress, fear of eviction, inability to pay utilities, unemployment, health concerns and losing loved ones to the virus.
“We’ve taken over 1,500 calls already in March just specifically related to the coronavirus and I do believe that will continue to increase,” said Lyn Morris, Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations for Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services. “Our history with things like this, like in the 2008 recession, the first couple of weeks it’s a little hard to gauge call volume because everybody’s in shock, taking care of their basic needs first. Then the weeks after are usually when we start to see the call volume really increase. Two weeks from now, we’re probably going to see a big increase as the fear, the anxiety builds, and as the death toll from coronavirus rises we would expect that.”
The charity collected data showing that among the 1,519 callers who talked about COVID-19, one in five communicated a desire to kill themselves. Anxiety or stress was the number one concern for 43 percent of the people, followed by health concerns for 25 percent, relationship concerns for 21 percent, and loneliness or isolation for 19 percent.
The callers worried about COVID-19 tended to be older as well, with 37 percent aged over 45, according to the charity data. More callers tended to be women as well at 66 percent. “We’re not sure yet what that’s about,” Morris said. “Preliminary data is showing that they tend to be more responsible for the kids, who are at home now. And they are probably the ones stocking up on supplies, and tend to be the ones that take on that caretaker role.”
Morris explained that the crisis line hasn’t seen an increase in the total number of calls. However, the calls related to the coronavirus have surged. “When the reality hits of unemployment, people’s kids home for a longer time, people feeling they’re running out of food or supplies, or god forbid somebody in their household gets sick with the virus, that’s what’s really going to hit. And that’s when we’ll see the call volume rise more so.”
Suicide hotline groups in other states are also witnessing a surge of calls. In Boston, a helpline backed by the nonprofit group Samaritans said it received around 350 calls a day over the course of a week. This is a hundred more calls than they typically have on a given day, according to The Boston Globe. A spokeswoman at the national Crisis Text Line told the Globe that they handled 6,000 conversations last week, about twice as many as usual.
In Portland, Oregon, Chief Jami Resch held a news conference and said that 911 calls reporting suicide threats or attempts had increased 41 percent over the same period last year. A North Dakota-based nonprofit called FirstLink, which runs a national suicide prevention hotline, said call volumes have jumped 300 percent. Meanwhile, call volumes have also doubled in Idaho.
Didi Hirsch’s Suicide Crisis Line suggested that those feeling overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis should seek ways to connect with others via phone calls or video apps just to check-in or to spend time with family while at home.
The group also recommended regular exercise, sticking to a routine while cooped up in the home, and limiting alcohol consumption.
The charity said giving to others — like running errands for people, gifting a grocery card to someone in need, or even showing gratitude to health workers — can also be good for your own mental health.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call Didi Hirsch’s 24 hour Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255. They also have a line specifically geared towards people stressed about the coronavirus, which can be reached at 1-800-985-5990. Didi Hirsch is part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 24/7 Crisis Chat service, which can be reached at www.didihirsch.org/chat.