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Increased Sense of Belonging could Reduce Suicides during the Coronavirus Pandemic

During a time of crisis, we have to be more mindful of people who may be feeling depressed or suicidal.

From a scientific perspective, it is difficult to predict how the rate of suicide deaths in the United States may or may not change during this international crisis. On one hand, suicide deaths may increase associated with the onset of difficult life events (e.g., unemployment, social disconnection, etc.) and the difficulty people have finding meaning and hope during these experiences. On the other hand, research has shown that sometimes national crises and other events may create a “pulling-together effect” that prevents suicide deaths.

Taken together, one of the most important things we can do right now to prevent suicide deaths is socially connect (even virtually) as much as possible.

“A key question is how effectively people can cultivate a strong sense of belonging in communities while also social distancing,” says Dr. Jennifer Lockman, CEO of Centerstone’s Research Institute. “This will require us as communities to be very purposeful and intentional about connecting virtually, such as sending caring texts or checking in via phone or video on isolated and vulnerable people.”

Finding meaning through sharing our stories is also important. Dr. Lockman’s research in suicide prevention points to this: “Perhaps it is also a call for us to be more transparent with others about ‘sharing our stories’ to foster genuine, deep connections – to share our thoughts and emotions a little more openly than we might otherwise would – and extend extra doses of compassion, grace, and forgiveness when others aren’t 100%. I am hopeful that people in our communities will feel cared for during a very difficult time – which is such a protective factor for suicide.”

For those people who are feeling suicidal, there are plenty of resources that are available to help, even during this pandemic. Centerstone remains fully operational and continuing to serve our clients and communities. To reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure at this time, almost all appointments are being conducted via telephone or telehealth (video). For more information, please click here. Also, our Crisis Lines remain open and fully operational for anyone who is at immediate risk of hurting themselves or someone else. For more information, please click here.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also provides 24/7, free and confidential support via phone (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255) or online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. If someone you know is in a crisis, there are 5 things you can do to communicate with them and help them, according to NSPL:

  1. Ask & Listen – Be direct and ask “Are you thinking about suicide?” Being direct and unbiased can allow for strong dialogue about their emotional pain and see what next steps need to be taken. Then, when they answer, be sure to take their responses seriously and not ignore them. Listen to their reasons for feeling the way they do and focus on them, instead of on the reasons you may have for them to stay alive.
  2. Keep Them Safe – Once you ask and listen to them, see what needs to be done to establish safety. Find out if they have a plan or have done anything in the past to take their own life. If they have access to drugs or weapons, extra steps might need to be taken to “put distance” between them and means of suicide (e.g., using a gun safe to promote safety.
  3. Be There – This could mean being physically with someone, speaking with them on the phone or finding any other way to show support for them. And make sure you follow through with any promises you make to support them. Listening is key in this step, as well, to know what they want and need from you. During this time, you can also ask them to share their story. Demonstrate that you understand the complexity of how they are experiencing many things at once. Listening in this way can help people find, for themselves, alternate “plots” to their life story that do not end in death by suicide.
  4. Help Them Connect – You don’t have all the answers, but that’s OK, because there are plenty of people who can help establish a safety net for someone in crisis. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 to anyone who needs help (1-800-273-TALK), and Centerstone also has crisis counselors on call to help. Talk with the person to see what kind of support they would prefer and benefit from and help them connect to the resources that are available.
  5. Follow Up – After your initial contact and after you’ve connected them with other resources, you need to keep checking in to see how they’re doing. Call, text, email, or find some way to touch base and see if there’s anything else you can do for them. It’s also a good way to tell them other things that you might not have been able to previously.

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