There are many factors relating to suicide and the feeling of hopelessness and that there is no other solution to ending the pain of life. Financial hardship and job instability as well as health concerns are all proven causes of anxiety and depression, so a combination of all of these during a pandemic are going to combine to create a very difficult situation indeed for some people.
All of these factors are likely to cause social isolation - a major contributor to poor mental health. All contribute to a pessimistic outlook. All may affect your close personal relationships. All will be difficult to deal with for those with an existing mental health disorder. All have a stigma associated with them, meaning a victim of any or all is less likely to seek support. Add to the mix that anyone who preceives themself to be the breadwinner of the family unit, will feel extra pressure and be less likely to confide in other family members. During a pandemic, people are generally less able to continue with their usual routines and coping mechanisms - eg CLANGERS - connecting with support networks, learning, being active, spending time in nature, eating healthily, relaxing and sleeping well. They are also more likely to indulge in unhealty coping mechanisms such as excessive indulgence in news or unhealthy habits such as smoking, alcohol or drugs, violence or self-harm.
The final major factor in the mix is bereavement. Grief is a difficult process to go through even in more normal times, but with additional pressures, a sufferer is more likely to get stuck in one of the stages and be unable to more through into acceptance. When someone loses a parent, child or partner, they may feel that they have nothing left to live for and find it difficult to foresee a happy future for themselves. Those who believe in an afterlife may also yearn to join their loved one in a place of rest, convinced that would be a preferable option to continuing to live in the moral world. At a time when thousands have people have been bereaved because of COVID-19, we need to be aware of the signs of suicide and how to support anyone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Of course we won't know for some time (or ever, if the statisticians can't agree on how to compile the data) how many people have died as a direct result of COVID, and how many people have lost their jobs or been prevented from getting the job they would have had because of COVID, and given those who die by suicide are not always clear to others about the reasons for their decision, we may not even know how many people take their own lives as a direct result of COVID, but we do know that all of these things have a clear impact on mental health, which in turn affects levels of suicide.
What we do know, is that pre-COVID, many suicides were shown to be linked to unemployment and financial hardship.
According to the WHO, one in five suicides is linked to unemployment
Almost two thirds of those claiming health related benefits have had suicidal thoughts and are six times more likely than the general population to attempt to take their own lives.
Although statistically women are more likely to suffer from a mental health problem than men, they are more likely to seek help, so more men die by suicide each year, particularly middle aged men.
What should organisations be doing?
If your organisation does not consider the possibility and potential impact of an attempted or successful suicide amongst one of your staff members, you are lacking in your risk assessments. It is imperative that you equip your line managers, workforce influencers and mental health first aiders or champions with the skills to identify when someone is struggling and how to support them, as well as understanding where their responsibilty as work colleagues begins and ends. Too many managers either consider it to be a personal problem and don't want to get involved, or take on their colleague as a personal project, being available to them 24/7 and crossing professional boundaries. The ideal solution is to create a supportive environment and a culture of openess and non-judgement whilst ensuring you have the practical mechanisms in place for them to access support quickly and without cost to themselves. This is particularly important during times of organisational change, restructuring or redundancy when people who are already vulnerable can tip over into a dangerous state of mind.
Find out more about suicide here