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Suicide prevention during the Covid-19 pandemic: Warning signs and what to do

Suicide prevention during the Covid-19 pandemic: Warning signs and what to do

Do you know what to do?

Editor: Rachel Au

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The Covid-19 pandemic has been with us for close to two years now, and it has seen an increase in suicide cases and deteriorating mental health conditions—here are the warning signs to take note of and what you should (or shouldn't say) to someone who is considering taking his/her life

I remember texting and talking to my close friends and family members about the number of infected cases and deaths in the country and which areas became highly infected. These conversations have been very common throughout the pandemic, and they usually carry unusual devastation and uncertain emotions, especially at the end of the conversation.

Not to mention, my clients who come in for psychological assistance are affected by the pandemic—directly and indirectly—and their mental health conditions have deteriorated as a result. So truly, mental illness that stems from the pandemic is no longer a surprise to us nowadays.

The progression of the pandemic situation and mental health

Recall back to the first six months after the Covid-19 virus emerged. There were increased psychological responses that moved through various phases; the uncertainty and fear towards the nature of this new virus were followed by differing levels of distress in various forms: anxiety, insomnia, traumatic stress, agoraphobia, suicidal thoughts, to name a few.

More months passed during the pandemic, and many nations experienced the viral spread of the virus, causing mortality and economic convulsions. In some countries, mixed messages from national and local leaderships added to the distress. There were significant concerns about the reopening of economic sectors, which, again, were another contributing factor to stress, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among many individuals.

To manage and reduce the viral spread, several public health measures were understandably put into place. However, there's a growing body of science relating to the topic of suicide that this causes several risk factors like:

  • Social disconnectedness
  • Loneliness
  • Diminished social support
  • Fear for potential job or financial loss(es)
  • Remote/online work/school

These, of course, causes a disruption in social, academic, work and the basic structure of daily life. Not to mention the loss of loved ones or anticipated milestones that are no longer near in sight—the list goes on, how these factors connect to each other, and thus, contribute to the deterioration of both mental and physical health.

As a result, individuals who experience suicidal thoughts during these difficult times have greatly increased. In fact, various news sites have already reported a rapid increase in suicide rates due to the hardships from the pandemic.

The warning signs of someone considering suicide

It is of utmost necessity for all of us to be aware of the importance of mental health conditions in the nation, especially during this difficult time. Collaborative care and noticing the early signs have been found to be effective in managing suicidal thoughts.

There are a few warning signs from affected individuals that we can pay more attention to. Still, one of the most concerning signs of danger includes a drastic behaviour change, or the presence of an entirely new behaviour that is related to a painful event. While it may not be an absolute condition, most people who attempted suicide exhibit one or more warning signs, such as the following list.

If a person talks about:

  • Killing themselves
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Unbearable pain

Behaviours that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Socially isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Fatigue

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation/Shame
  • Agitation/Anger
  • Relief/Sudden improvement

What to do if you know someone who is considering suicide?

Whether the warning signs are ambiguous or apparent, we need to provide delicate care, especially during this challenging period. It is also crucial to seek professional help if there is a need as it can be an overwhelming condition for the untrained person to handle the crisis themselves.

However, here are some things that you can do if you feel that the individual may be in danger of acting on suicidal feelings:

  • Ask specific questions and what kind of help they need
  • NEVER try to 'problem-solve' the situation
  • NEVER provide them with positive statements such as "You'll be okay!" or "Be positive!"
  • You can try saying, "Tell me more about it" or "I am here to help".

The main objective of this conversation is to listen without judgment and assist whenever needed so that you are with them. Connecting with them and supporting them is crucial.

If someone is attempting suicide, immediate help is needed. You should not leave the person alone. You can call the local emergency line or, if you think it is safe to do so, take the person to the nearest hospital's emergency room. Also, it is imperative to inform the close family member or friend right away about the incident.

If you know that someone has the risks and warning signs identified earlier, encourage them to seek knowledgeable professionals. Do not leave them alone.

Resources used as reference to write this article:

Parekh, R. (2018). Suicide Prevention. American Psychiatric Association


If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please do not hesitate to contact any of the following hotlines:

Malaysian Mental Health Association
Contact: 03 7782 5499

Talian Kasih
Hotline: 15999 (24 hours)
WhatsApp: 019 261 5999

Think I Need Aid (TINA)
WhatsApp: 018 988 8058

Women’s Aid Organisations (WAO)
Hotline: 03 7956 3488

More resources here:


ABOUT

Sam Jeng Mun is a senior lecturer and clinical psychologist at Taylor’s University. Besides being a lecturer in private universities for the past nine years, her professional experiences also include working in the government hospital, private hospital, and private practice. In her clinical practice, she mainly conducts psychotherapy, psychological consultations, psychological workshops and talks and psychological assessments for children and adults. She is passionate about building awareness about mental health and improving the level of mental health literacy among people.

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