Guest Columnist

Have hope: Suicide in times of crisis

A crisis counselor works with a client over an online chat messenger at Foundation2 in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Feb. 7, 2
A crisis counselor works with a client over an online chat messenger at Foundation2 in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

“It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”

-William Styron.

In my 35 years on earth I’ve heard the term “unprecedented” used only a handful of times to describe global events. I don’t know about you, but as I write this tucked away in my basement where I’ve been working from for the last two months, I’m pretty darn sick of the word “unprecedented.”

All of us are now experiencing the culmination of a global pandemic, a painful economic reality and the challenge of stay at home orders.

Social connectedness is one of the most important aspects of the human condition. During times of crisis we come together, not apart. Time spent with friends and family is immensely important to our well-being, heck, even time spent with co-workers has its benefits. Physical proximity to our supports matters, it matters a lot.

For those of us with a history of mental health struggles (and without), this “unprecedented” crisis has presented unique challenges to our well-being: uncertainty, fear, and a sense of hopelessness. The daily loss of life, the 24-hour news cycle with its constant focus on the pandemic, and a massive economic crisis. Good news is hard to come by.

The psychologist and suicidologist Edwin Schneidman coined the term “psychological pain” to describe “how much you hurt as a human. It is mental suffering; mental torment.”

All of us hurt right now.

During times of stress, it is not uncommon to experience thoughts of suicide.

The vast majority of individuals who experience suicidal thoughts or behaviors go on to live healthy and full lives. During this time where many of us have already felt financial impacts or experienced increased depression, the possibility of experiencing suicidal ideation or behavior increases.

Support is available, help is out there.

1. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) to immediately speak with a counselor (24/7/365). If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about someone else, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available.

2. Mobile Crisis Outreach: If you live in Eastern Iowa you can call the Iowa Helpline (855-581-8111) to receive free telehealth services from a mobile crisis counselor. Counselors will connect with you via telehealth to provide screening, immediate intervention and guidance.

There are several warning signs that can help you determine if you or a loved one is at risk for suicide. These include:

• Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves

• Looking for a way to kill themselves, like purchasing a firearm

• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

• Talking about being a burden to others

3. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. While we can’t be physically with many of our friends and family, we should still make an effort to connect with them. If there is someone you’ve worried about in the past, a friend or family member with a history of depression, now is an important time to reach out and see how they are doing.

4. Take care of what you can. I’ve noticed with many of the clients I work with (and myself) that as social distancing and stay at home orders have been in place for nearly two months now, sleep habits and routines have started to change. I find myself staying up later and sleeping in later. Sleep and mental health go hand in hand. It’s hard to feel good when we are not sleeping, or if our sleep cycles are significantly disrupted. Depression can drive us to want to sleep away the days. This is something to be avoided and tends to compound our feelings of loneliness.

5. Connect with your mental health providers. Connecting with a mental health provider remains an important component of support. Let your provider know that you’ve had thoughts of suicide so you can work collaboratively on treatment and support.

6. Know that you matter. Individuals who experience thoughts of suicide and/or depression will often report that they feel or think their lives don’t matter. As Kevin Hines, the motivational speaker and suicide prevention advocate says “You matter to people you haven’t even met yet.” Treatment for suicide ideation and behavior is very effective. You are worth it. The vast majority of people who experience suicide ideation go on to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”

-Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations.

Drew Martel (LISW, CADC) is the director of crisis services at Foundation 2 and has been involved in several suicide risk assessments, as well as provided trainings across the state on suicide intervention and treatment. Drew also provides individual therapy at Meadowlark Psychiatric Services and is an adjunct instructor at the University of Iowa School of Social Work.

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