Wednesday, October 21, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic Presents ‘Urgent Opportunity’ to Implement Suicide Prevention Strategies

While the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risks associated with suicide, actionable steps can be taken now by key players to mitigate these risks, wrote Christine Moutier, M.D., of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in a column in JAMA Psychiatry.

“[O]utcomes related to suicide will be greatly influenced by investments and actions taken now and in the coming months on the part of policymakers, health care and community leaders, and citizens,” she wrote. “This is a moment in history when suicide prevention must be prioritized as a serious public health concern.”

Moutier outlined factors that increase the risk of suicide due to the pandemic and strategies for mitigating these risks that fall into eight broad categories:

  • Mental illness—The federal government should invest now and after the COVID-19 pandemic ends in increasing access to mental health care, including ensuring telemental health services are continued and strengthened.
  • Isolation, loneliness, and bereavement—Health care systems, hospitals, and clinics should provide caring contacts and virtual check-ins for people living alone. Community leaders should expand community-level services for elderly individuals, people living alone, and any other marginalized people.
  • Acute suicidal crisis—The federal government should increase investment in crisis services, such as the three-digit 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States. Communities should work to reform the current crisis response system to move away from a punitive response to mental health crises.
  • Access to means—Mental and public health experts can engage in suicide prevention education efforts with gun owners. Health care professionals can be trained in Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM), and advocacy organizations can launch advertising campaigns to make home environments safer for at-risk family members.
  • Alcohol consumption—Federal, state, and local governments should launch public messaging regarding safe drinking and mental health and crisis services and foster partnerships between alcohol distilleries/distributors and suicide prevention organizations.
  • Financial stressors—Federal and state governments can target safety-net resources for populations with disproportionate financial and health effects of COVID-19 and provide unemployment support and retraining opportunities.
  • Domestic violence—Communities should widely promote access to support services for victims of domestic violence. One example is the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the Crisis Text Line.
  • Irresponsible media reporting—Reporters and other media professionals should keep messages focused on suicide as a preventable cause of death and promote resources for help and support.

“If specific strategies can be maximally implemented with COVID-19–specific threats to population mental health and suicide risk in mind, this pandemic may not only provide a sense of urgency, but a path forward to address suicide risk at national and community levels,” Moutier concluded.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Experts Warn Efforts to Contain COVID-19 May Increase Suicide Risk.”

(Image: iStock\RyanJLane)


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