Experts Say COVID Adds to Risk Factors for Suicide

Sep 11, 2020

While the world fights the pandemic, health experts say there's a chronic epidemic that continues to hide in the shadows. September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and in Illinois, one person takes his or her own life, on average, every six hours.

Dr. Dimple Patel, a board member of the Illinois chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said suicidal ideas often are connected to a history of depression or anxiety. However, she said, the fear and isolation related to COVID-19 also are risk factors.

"There could be a triggering event or something going on that could especially increase your risk," she said, "and with COVID-19 going on, you don't have those outlets like you would normally have in order to reach out to other people."

According to the National Health Council, reports of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed since January, and in May, 21,000 people reported that they'd considered self-harm or suicide. Patel said help is out there, and if you are concerned about your own mental health or a loved one, text the word "TALK" to 74174 or call 800-273-TALK.

If you suspect someone is at risk for suicide, Patel said, have an open, honest conversation with them. She stressed the importance of sharing your concerns and letting them know they aren't alone.

"Making sure that you're using language that's not shaming or sounding judgmental, because that's also a really big part of it," she said. "And oftentimes it's very cultural, too -- wanting to keep things within the family and not really speak out about it; what are other people going to say?"

Patel encouraged Illinoisans who are struggling to seek professional help. She noted that a silver lining to the pandemic is the expansion of telehealth services.

"It's a great time to be able to reach out and obtain those services, and remembering that you're not alone," she said. "And the best part about going to therapy: It's confidential and you're able to really be open."

Some changes in behavior are red flags that a person might be suicidal, including withdrawing from people and activities or increasing alcohol or drug use. Other warning signs include sudden mood changes, or if a person says they feel hopeless, have no reason to live, or think of themselves as a burden to others.

Data is online at mhanational.org, and more information is at afsp.org/chapter/illinois.