A significant number of emergency department visits annually arise as a result of intentional self-harm. Although no accurate description explains what leads to suicide or what comes after, it is a multifaceted phenomenon of public health urgency during a global health crisis. In the United States alone, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and worldwide claims up to 800,000 lives each year. The international community must unite to come up with solutions to prevent the loss of life, as every single life lost is one too many.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, such an emergency naturally affects both individuals’ health and well-being and the communities in which they live. Unprecedented times unleash various emotional reactions from isolation, grief and trauma to other unhealthy behaviours, noncompliance with public health guidelines and the exacerbation of mental health conditions. While those who’ve been emotionally, sexually or physically abused in the past are more vulnerable to the psychosocial effects of a crisis, supportive interventions such as the Zero Suicide program and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy designed to promote wellness and enhance coping should be implemented .
In honour of World Suicide Prevention Week, and World Suicide Prevention Day held on the 10th of September every year, it is important to raise attention to the global importance of suicide prevention. Suicide impacts all people and particularly the world’s most marginalized and discriminated groups. It is a huge problem in developed countries and just as serious in low-and middle income countries where resources and access to healthcare professionals are scarce. In many regions of the world, the taboo and stigma surrounding suicide persist, causing people in need of help to be left alone.
Suicide prevention with awareness campaigns ought to be prioritized on the global health and public policy agendas as a major public health issue. Routine screening for suicidal ideation by health care professionals providing care should identify and assess suicide risk among populations. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), risk factors of suicide include mental illness, substance use diagnoses, trauma or conflict, loss, family history of suicide, and previous suicide attempts .
Effectively implementing suicide prevention strategies at the populational, sub-populational and individual level requires ensuring patients’ lethal means are restricted, reduced, and that all accesss to weapons of self-harm are removed from the nearby environments. Healthcare providers should keep up to date with new developments, research, and technologies screening for suicidal ideation, allowing them to effectively serve patients beyond their clinics’ walls. Key to prevention are strong physician patient relationships that help ensure care transitions allow for physicians to act as supportive contacts reaching out with calls, texts, letters and visits to their patients particularly when services are interrupted. With access to technology the role of psychiatrists, and psychologists may continue uninterrupted as telemedicine serves as an effective platform providing patients with access to care, even during lockdowns. Besides these objectives, greater awareness and education into the community means encouraging the responsible portrayal of suicide in mainstream media. A sensitive issue of this magnitude ought to be communicated responsibly placing special attention to not trigger susceptible individuals. With school based interventions, professionals may act sooner before worsened prognosis’ effectively ensuring that access to peer support services is available.
Suicide prevention is a responsibility of healthcare systems, medical professionals and communities. All countries must stand in solidarity and unify in collaboration to battle this common threat as preventing the tragic loss of life to suicide is of utmost importance.
References & Further Reading
- In Health and Behavioral Healthcare. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2020, from http://zerosuicide.edc.org/toolkit/treat/interventions-suicide-risk
- Psychiatry Online: DSM Library. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/book/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596