Has COVID pandemic impacted suicide rates?

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New Delhi: Covid-induced lockdown has been lifted from most regions and various other measures have been eased. But, the very thought that the Covid-19 pandemic is still on continues to affect mental health.

The uncertain nature of the pandemic, the chaos associated with the same continues to add to mental stress, which manifests as rising cases of depression, anxiety, insomnia, behavioural changes, health anxiety, nightmares, grief, among others, all that can contribute to suicidal thoughts and behaviour, said mental health experts on Friday.

September 10 is annually observed as World Suicide Prevention Day. Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), accounting for one in every 100 deaths. Every 40 seconds there is someone who ends his or her life, as per the WHO data. The theme this year is “creating hope through action”.

“A lot of people have gone through economic and financial stresses, some have lost jobs, some are concerned about their future and about their career, some have had a loss of their loved ones, some of them had medical problems or going through medical problems right now,” Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, told IANS.

“Covid has led to a definite rise in mental health concerns. Factors like grief, loneliness, social isolation, significant depression, financial stress, job loss, marital / family discord, alcohol/ substance dependence, feelings of hopelessness/ loneliness and lack of meaning to one’s life, can all contribute to suicidal thoughts and behaviour,” added Dr Sameer Malhotra, Director and Head, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket.

A study published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems in December last year showed a 67.7 per cent increase in online news media reports of attempted suicides and deaths by suicide.

There were online news media reports of 369 cases of suicides and attempted suicides during Covid lockdown vs 220 reports in 2019, revealed the study by the Indian Law Society, Pune.

According to the experts, Covid has contributed to mental health concerns among children, young and old alike. Children face disturbed sleep-wake cycles, irritability, lifestyle issues, loneliness. Many have also indulged in deliberate self-harm behaviour.

Adults are struggling to achieve work-life balance, emotional burnout in efforts to coordinate and fulfil responsibilities, at times marital/ family discord, alcohol/ substance use. The elderly feel lonely being away from children due to travel restrictions. Due to physical comorbidities, they are not able to connect to friends and family in person.

So how can people come out of the condition?

Seek help when needed. Ensure support and help to people when they express suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness. Guide and instill in them a sense of hope, optimism and positivity.

“There is an increased need to strengthen support systems. We should look at good social-economic support for people who are vulnerable. Organisations need to become very mental health friendly and support their employees. The focus should be made more on lifestyle and mental health outcomes,” Parikh said.

He also suggested the need for timely intervention, creating helplines in all languages to make it easier for people across the nation to reach out for support if necessary.

In September 2020, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment introduced a 24X7 toll-free mental rehabilitation helpline ‘KIRAN’ (1800-599-0019) in 13 languages. Several others have announced an emotional support helpline number, where people can reach out. This includes PeakMind (08047092334), Narayan Seva Sansthan (NSS) an NGO, Parivartan (07676602602).





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