John Mondello, 23, worked at the New York City Fire Department. He died by suicide on April 24, less than three months after starting treatment of Covid-19 patients.
“He told me that he experienced a lot of fear seeing a lot of death, he would find it a tough experience if he failed to save a life,” Mondello’s friend told the New York Post.
Dr. Lorna M. Breen, 49, was the medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital. She died on April 26 by suicide. Breen had no history of mental illness, her father, Philip Breen, said New York Timesbut she seemed “distant” when she spoke of the attack of death she witnessed at work.
“She was really in the frontline trenches. … Make sure she is praised as a hero, because she was, “said her father. “She is as much a victim as anyone who has died.”
Frontline workers of this pandemic are not only physically endangered. They are also staring at a huge mental health crisis. According to Jodi Jacobson Frey, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School, tens of thousands of patients are tasked, often without adequate resources such as personal protective equipment, to experience hopelessness with repeated exposure to death and disease. of social work.
But these risks are not limited only to first responders and frontline workers. They are felt by many of us who struggle with mental health problems, especially those with a history of suicidal thoughts or attempts. A new study Released on Friday, it was found that up to 75,000 additional people could die of “deaths from despair” – suicides and substance use – as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. That’s on top of a suicide rate that was already emerging before the pandemic.
“There are many reports from crisis lines and other data collection sources that firearms sales, interpersonal violence and personal financial crises have increased,” said Jonathan Singer, president of the American Association of Suicidology, adding that all of these factors have long been associated with increased suicide risk.
“In a worst case scenario, you have someone who has been struggling with suicidal thoughts for a long time, who recently lost their job and has a very conflicting interpersonal relationship without a safe way to leave,” he said. But with social distance and self-isolation, resources and support systems are more difficult to access. Add to this the fact that the government has not responded adequately to the range of risk factors, and the mental health crisis will only worsen.
I know firsthand how risky this time is. A few weeks ago I hung up with my therapist. My phone immediately shook with a notification. Please fill this in safety plan, read my therapist’s message and repeated what she had tried to tell me during our teletherapy session.
My life was in danger. Again.
Last November, after months of untreated bipolar disorder and social isolation, I attempted suicide. Then I had to blow life back into myself.
I planned to use this year to be with the people I loved, to travel to new places and learn to transform my deep pain into community building. But just three months after I gave up hope of life, Covid-19 plunged back into loneliness. I felt that this critical year of healing had been stolen from me. And that has been the case in many ways.
In the year after a suicide attempt, people are most at risk of retrying and dying from suicide, according to a recent scientific overview by Drs. Jennifer Schreiber and Larry Culpepper. It is especially dangerous for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and unipolar depression.
An article published last month JAMA Psychiatry examines how social distance – the practice of staying at home and physically distant from others to reduce infection rates of the new coronavirus – is linked to a higher risk of suicide. “Individuals who experience suicidal thoughts may not have a connection with other people and often disconnect with others as the suicide risk increases. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are associated with social isolation and loneliness, ‘the authors write.
I know how I feel completely alone and deserted, which makes me think I have no more options. A few times since I started taking social distance, I curled up in a ball and cried, weighed down by the feeling of isolation, the feeling of locking myself in a grave. In many ways, I feel that I slowly return to the space in which I was at my worst. And I’m terrified.
Still, I know that staying at home is the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. I may be in danger because of my mental illness, but sheltering on the spot, I say to myself, is how I will protect myself and my loved ones. That doesn’t mean I’m not fighting like hell. And that the government makes it more difficult every day.
The state’s failed response to this pandemic – from a dizzying lack of widespread testing to an immense shortage of masks and other protective equipment – has resulted in more than 60,000 dead and 26.5 million jobs lost. I have seen our President give medical advice that would literally kill us. A different one every day is rushing to reopen its economy, without taking into account the advice of public health experts. Meanwhile with reduced budgets, my writing career plummets and unemployment benefits feel impossible to receive. As our government does not control this virus, more people will die not only from physical illness, but also from the mental despair they may succumb to.
It makes sense that hospital workers are at risk. In early March, the US only had that 1 percent of required masks experts estimate that this crisis needs to be addressed. Hospital workers were failed by a system that did not provide primary health care workers – including nurses, plumbing workers and medical assistants – with sufficient personal protective equipment so that they did not have to watch their colleagues die.
Then there was our government’s refusal to issue home warrants earlier in the crisis, flooding hospitals with Covid-19 cases. Meanwhile, hospital workers have been further failed by the lack of major rent and mortgage cancellations, or economic safety nets that would ease the stress of having to work and expose them to the virus.
In addition to the essential frontline workers of this crisis – many of whom are underpaid black, indigenous and brown people – there are other vulnerable populations of this era to worry about: survivors of domestic violence stuck with their abusers feel if there is no escape as they cannot afford a hotel and all shelters are closed. People who have lost hope because they have become homeless or because they cannot feed their family. Those who couldn’t hold the hands of their loved ones when they died of this disease. People struggle with it drug abuse are also threatened, especially if they have been before experience an overdose, which is associated with a higher risk of death from suicide.
Then there are the mentally ill people who cannot afford the life-saving treatments and medicines they need, or who do not have the resources of the community to keep them alive. Then add one to that 85 percent more arms purchases in March, and people are two to ten times more likely to die from firearms suicide than other types of attempt.
Gabriela is a recent graduate with depression and anxiety. She has no idea how to find a job or get health insurance. She told Vox that this instability and the fact that she was not with her family, friends and partner caused her to struggle with thoughts of suicide.
As a resident of Puerto Rico whose entire undergraduate experience is filled with natural disasters, she says that our governments must take responsibility for this mental health crisis. “I wish they would just do their job and their share of ending the pandemic as soon as possible,” she told Vox.
For me it is one thing to recover. It is something else to do with the fear that if I had a psychiatric emergency, the facility to which I would be transported might have a Covid-19 outbreak because of policies, neglect and specific vulnerabilities of psychiatric patients. Then in the middle of the night there is panic about what the future of our world will look like.
The better prepared our caregivers are, the more effective our leaders can be, the more we who feel struggling with mental health problems can feel more at ease.
Frey tells Vox that there are ways to address this problem, primarily by increasing our investment in mental health treatment and substance use. She also points out that it is crucial to consult those who have first-hand experience of mental illness and substance abuse. “People who have gone through the experience should be part of finding solutions,” she says.
I mourn the critical year of healing I thought I would have. But to stay alive, I also have to embrace the year around me, no matter how uncertain it may seem.
So to continue my healing, I speak to people I love through video calls, meme-sharing group chats, and daily check-ins. I go online to psychiatric appointments and receive my prescriptions. I constantly do internal work, journaling and reflecting. I keep the suicide hotline number nearby. I reach for hope wherever I can find it. I try to love deeply, I try to forgive myself for things I might regret. I try to find joy everywhere I can.
I dream of a different world. And when I feel anger, I try to use that anger to imagine how I can help make those dreams come true, like becoming a health worker in colored communities. Despair is everywhere. But that also applies to the desire for change, the hunger for revolution.
Dese’Rae L. Stage, a graduate student in social work and a suicide, has also been struggling with symptoms since the crisis. “Once this is over, we as humans will fundamentally change,” she says.
Frey says she’s hopeful when she sees people raise their awareness about mental health issues and inequalities, saying the Covid-19 crisis is like a mirror showing us how broken our society is. “And the mirror is shattered,” she says. “So if we don’t learn from this and we don’t improve … I can hardly bear the thought. People will die if we do nothing to change the system.”
Nylah Burton is a writer from Denver. She deals with mental health, social justice and identity. You can follow her Twitter.