September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
With an increase in isolation due to COVID-19 quarantine regulations, people are feeling lonely and disconnected. The pandemic has also caused high levels of uncertainty, causing increased anxiety for everyone, no matter their vulnerability to the virus. These conditions make it particularly critical for people to frequently focus on their mental health. Making authentic connections with others while distanced and wearing a mask, or online via Zoom, is much more challenging.
People are feeling disconnected from themselves as well as other people. This “new normal” brings an onslaught of mental health challenges, particularly for traveling health care providers, who may find themselves in unfamiliar places with fewer connections to stave off loneliness. Despite the circumstances, it is important to emphasize that people do not have to experience these feelings alone.
A person’s feelings and mental health matter.
The month of September is dedicated to National Suicide Awareness and an important reminder that a person’s feelings and mental health matter. Health professionals, allies, survivors, and community members take this time to come together to promote suicide prevention awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental health. As of mid-2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds. This staggering statistic is an important reminder that suicide or suicidal thoughts are pervasive.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (nami):
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34, and the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35-54
- The overall suicide rate in the United States has increased by 31% since 2001
- 46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition
- While only half of the individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows that 90% experienced symptoms
An article published by the Journal of American Medical Association Psychiatry (JAMA) warned that the COVID-19 pandemic may create a “perfect storm” among medical professionals, many of whom are already at an increased risk of death by suicide. Travel nurses on the frontline can be particularly susceptible to thoughts of isolation or depression due to their current work with COVID-19 patients. With long hours, grueling work, and a feeling of displacement that comes with being assigned to an unfamiliar location, it is essential to take time for personal check-ins. Finding the right resources may be individualized and there are a number of tips and tools available.
A silver lining of virtual connection is the emergence of online forums, community boards and virtual groups where people can come together and share their experiences. Although a sort of unspoken taboo still exists in terms of talking openly about mental health, organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Health (nami) are creating a dialogue so people can share their stories and build a sense of community. People around the world are posting photos on various social media platforms to share their journey with mental health or suicide prevention with hash tags such as #SuicidePrevention or #Stigmafree. This public series has now surpassed 1.5 million posts on Instagram and is therefore available for anyone to look at. Some have found the sheer act of sharing these posts liberating and freeing.
However, if the act of sharing seems too public, there are other resources and tools available for those who struggle. Or for those who may know someone who is struggling. More specifically for healthcare workers, the American Nurses Association (ANA) is a great resource. There is an entire page dedicated to mental health tips designed specifically for nurses. Which includes important links to support groups and wellness initiatives. Even quick tips for relieving stress either at home or at work.
Some of the tips from the ANA webpage include:
- While at work, take back the act of handwashing as moments of self-care. Recite a meditation or affirmation, sing a song, or pray
- Take a lap around the department for 1 minute while focusing on breathing. Breath in for 4 counts, holding for 7, and out for 8
- At home, spend time outdoors safely by going for a short walk
- Write down 3 people or things that you are grateful for every day
The significance of this information does not expire once the month of September is over. Utilizing these mental health resources can play an integral role in relieving anxiety, depression or other emotions that can lead to suicide. Healthcare workers on the frontline are working tirelessly everyday to fight COVID-19.
With depleted energy at the end of the day, it is absolutely pertinent that nurses integrate effective self-care regimens into their daily routine. It doesn’t have to be a time-consuming routine, but even a couple of minutes makes an immense difference. Suicide plagues thousands of families every year. By raising awareness and facilitating open conversations we can begin to end the stigma surrounding mental health.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Other important mental health resources:
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7
- The National Alliance for Suicide Prevention
- The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) Online Support Group