A Looming Threat of Coronavirus: Suicide Prevention Helplines Are Getting More Calls

This article was published by New18.com

The battle against the deadly Covid-19 pandemic is long, arduous and exasperating as there seems to be no easy end to it. At least, not anytime soon.  But the battle is not the same for everyone. While social distancing and nationwide lockdowns may come across as viable measures to curb the contagion, it has also led to increased risk of suicide.

A report by WHO published in 2016 showed that India had the highest rate of suicide in South Asia and no robust strategy to prevent it. India’s rate was 16.5 suicides per 100,000 people while globally, the rate was 10.5. And this was before the pandemic struck. Now, the threat of a deadly virus ravaging through the country has aggravated the suicide rate in India.

A study published in the Jama Psychiatry journal shows that efforts to reduce human contact to a minimum to spread the infection from spreading may eventually flatten the curve and slow down the virus, but it may pose another issue which might be a little more complicated to deal with – a surge in suicides.

The study lists a few factors which could be causing people to feel suicidal during the pandemic.

Economic stress. Job losses. Businesses shutting down. Industries coming to a standstill. Public events getting cancelled. A few days ago, reports suggested that the economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic might be worse than the recession of 2009. UN’s labour organisation estimates the equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs could be lost in the second quarter alone from the COVID-19 outbreak, with businesses and plants shuttered worldwide.

Most of us are leading isolated lives right now and psychologists fear that may be causing irreparable damage to our mental health. Panic, depression, anxiety and paranoia have become more common among people who already battle mental health issues.

Dr. Jawahar Singh, a psychiatrist at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, opined that that lack of awareness is one of the primary reasons why suicide rates are increasing in the light of the coronavirus outbreak in India. “People don’t really understand how the virus is spreading or what they should do if they begin showing symptoms. They do not know where to go or whom to approach if they need help and there is no way to educate them about it,” Dr. Singh said.

At present, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 has crossed 18,000 in India with over 600 deaths. Yet, awareness about this disease is alarmingly low. India has at least 14% of its population living below the poverty line, and many of them might not even know about the deadly virus. As Dr. Singh explained, if an individual develops symptoms and has no clue about how to get tested or even approach the authorities, he or she would be left feeling helpless and desolate.

Fear of the unknown is another factor here. With no proper understanding of how the virus spreads, people don’t really know how they could pass it on to their family members and loved ones.

“People are getting scared without even getting tested. They don’t even know what’s happening. There has to be some awareness drive by the government, some sort of counselling to help the underprivileged people understand,” said Dr. Singh.

Dr. Singh also believes that the stigma associated with the disease may be crucial in increasing death rate caused by suicide in India.

The coronavirus is also bringing out another, darker side of some people: Fear, anger, resentment and shaming. Research has shown that human beings tend to castigate those who are ill in order to protect themselves from a deadly disease. “Fear of being ostracized from mainstream society and the shame which comes along with it may further push people to take their own lives,” he added.

“In Kerala, mental health is being treated with equal importance as physical health. People must realise that medical and mental health go hand in hand. Physicians treating Covid-19 patients must also assess if they require therapy and do the needful,” he said.


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