It has been said that 'human disasters come in all shapes and sizes including wars, terrorist violence, natural events, economic recessions and depressions as well as infection' (Devitt, 2020). 2020, and so far into 2021, it is the latter scourge that has negatively impacted our world.
Although some countries like India are still being ravaged by this dreadful virus, some people may be profoundly grateful that their own lives may be heading towards some degree of ease from lockdown pressures. However, we pray for the many globally who are still suffering at this time.
Imminently, the world will be celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week from 10 - 16 May 2021. For this reason, this month I would like for us to take some time together to reflect on the relationship between the pandemic, mental health and suicide. As human beings, we are always prone to disasters and troublesome situations which, in general, can have an adverse effect on our mental health, and if severe enough, impairment of mental health can lead to suicide.
It is now generally accepted that the presence of mental illness is a major factor but not the exclusive factor in the incidence of suicide. But what provokes an individual to engage in an act of suicide on any given date and time is a complex issue. It is likely that such a decision and act comprises ‘a perfect storm’ of personal, social and cultural factors, which include 'the presence of mental illness, perhaps a genetic pre-disposition, family history, certain personality traits (such as impulsivity), the availability of means, the abuse of alcohol or other substances, and a recent insoluble predicament' (Pridmore, 2010).
The prolonged pandemic climate has been a major predicament for many. The restrictive pressures of Draconic lockdowns to mitigate effects on healthcare systems, economic recession leading to lost employment and businesses, the accompanying isolation of home-working (sometimes in a domestically abusive environment), more opportunities to abuse substances and increase probability of addiction, bereavement and so many other adverse events which have decimated normality from our, what now seems, routine lives, have affected many persons' mental health to the point of hopelessness.
Suicidal behaviour often increases demands on the Mental Health services. As a result, during the pandemic, it is possible that many who would normally seek help from medical clinics for depression and other forms of mental illness would avoid attending scheduled sessions to reduce the risk of flooding the already overstretched medical teams, or contracting the viral infection, or maybe some would have been told by a centralised service to seek help from local community mental health services, an option which may be laced with stigma for some persons.
So how can support be focused? The after and side effects of this pandemic have to be monitored carefully, particularly in the area of mental health. Of all the current challenges presented by COVID-19, economic recession appears most toxic, drastically affecting the lives of many persons. Job loss coupled with isolation as a result from being at home due to the pandemic can severely distress mental health. It is therefore important to ensure some form of protective barrier around those who fall into this vulnerable group and who may be expected to experience an increase in suicidal ideation and behaviour.
Some groups may be more vulnerable than others to post traumatic stress also leading to suicidal ideation and behaviours. Strict long-term measures must be in place from a governmental level to ensure that another type of pandemic, that is, mental illness, does not spill out and flood the globe.