The Effect of Increased Isolation on Suicide Rates
In a time of unprecedented change, fear, and isolation, it is natural that some be more at-risk for suicide. The CDC reported that early in the pandemic, mental health conditions were self-reported as considerably elevated in association with COVID-19; however, current evidence suggests that suicide rates have remained steady or even fallen in the wake of the virus for most countries. While statistics for 2021 are not widely available, we hope that rates do not rise.
For individuals at a higher risk of suicide in these times, social isolation may affect them adversely. Therefore, for National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, we should focus on these groups of individuals. As clinicians, we want to do everything possible to lower their risk, and this article is to provide some ideas on how to accomplish that.
We must consider many overlapping risk factors for suicide, including grief, financial difficulties, and frontline worker status. However, independently of these factors, we can make suggestions about support groups and access to support for our clients.
Suggestions to Decrease Client Isolation
In a systematic review of suicide-related deaths and suicidal thoughts during the pandemic, statistics show that suicidal thoughts are rising, though deaths by suicide remain consistent in most cases. However, low-income and minority groups have a disproportionately higher suicide risk. In the case review, many of the causes of suicide or suicidal ideation are related directly to unemployment.
However, some studies suggested reasons for self-harm, suicide attempts, or suicides included previous mental health conditions and stress of isolation or quarantine. According to the 2021 article in Psychiatry Research called “Aggregated COVID-19 Suicide Incidences in India: Fear of COVD-19 Infection is the Prominent Causative Factor,” isolation-related stresses are linked to suicide.
A 2021 article in Psychiatry.com titled “Mental Health Crisis Secondary to COVID-19 Related Stress: A Case Series From a Child and Adolescent Inpatient Unit” reports that inability to see friends or partners is another potential reason for self-harm and suicide, among many other isolation-related causes. While financial difficulties and COVID-19 related fears were the primary factors in the assembled cases, isolation was proven to be a factor among high-risk groups for suicide.
Some studies reveal a lower rate of help-seeking in those with suicidal ideation. Some online access groups show increased participation according to a 2021 article published in Internet Interventions titled “Rapid Report: Early Demand, Profiles, and Concerns of Mental Health Users During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic.”
The concern with lower participation in suicide helplines and hospitals is that suicidal ideation is not decreasing. Therefore, we could draw the tentative conclusion that clients with existing mental health conditions are seeking help at dangerously low rates. However, with increased internet literacy and access to online support, perhaps resources like telehealth and online outreach can mitigate the risk.
Remote access to resources is both a concern and a lifeboat for clients who are on their own amid crippling mental health symptoms. Knowing the risks of isolation, here are some suggestions for clinicians to encourage less solitude for their clients.
#1 Schedule phone calls to loved ones.
Depressed and anxious clients may find it challenging to keep track of time or tasks in isolation. Keeping a schedule that requires contact with loved ones may mitigate loneliness; this schedule should be one that clinicians can follow up on.
#2 Join an interest group.
Finding a niche on the internet is easy. Clients who connect with others with similar passions may motivate them to continue to learn and practice their hobbies. This connection may be a priceless lifeline.
Studies have shown that Facebook groups and social media were associated with decreased depression in elderly patients. In addition, more cherished friendships are being started online since the advent of social media, according to Pew Research Center’s 2018 article called “Teens, Friendships and Online Groups.”
#3 Suggest safe outdoor proximity to people.
Not only will getting outside have a positive effect on a depressed client’s mental health, but low-risk social situations could lighten the depression burden. In-person meetings with safety protocols and social distancing could drastically reduce their risk for suicide, especially if the client can meet with loved ones.
#4 Suggest call-in volunteering.ty
Many services utilize a volunteer base to check in on people over the phone. A 2020 article in Greater Mood Magazine titled “How Volunteering Can Help Your Mental Health” reports that volunteering is a great way to reduce depression symptoms. Furthermore, creating connections and having people to rely on may be exactly what your client needs.
#5 Consider adopting a pet.
Pet adoption rates soared at the beginning of the pandemic. We know, instinctively, that having someone to depend on you may take the focus away from mental health issues; yet, pet ownership can do more than that. Simply having a pet around can reduce depression risks and symptoms. Pet ownership is a serious commitment for the lifetime of the pet. Be sure that the client has the financial resources and stable housing to provide for the pet before taking this step.
While suicide rates haven’t risen during the pandemic, alarming mental health risks and suicidal ideation have skyrocketed. Keeping our clients healthy through telehealth can be difficult, but suggesting a few ways to decrease loneliness and isolation for your client may protect them from the adverse effects of quarantine. We know that clients are more in need than ever of a social network that cares for them, and we want to be a part of their network. At Casa Recovery, we want to work with you to create a treatment that can have long-lasting positive effects on your client’s life and mental health. We can also help them start connections through our group therapies and training programs that they can take with them after treatment. If you would like to give your client the lifeline of connection and improve their mental health in a time of alarming suicide risk, call Casa Recovery at (888) 928-2272.