I'm known for being an overly optimistic guy - so why write about this? Because in my ministry, I deal with post-suicide forgiveness and sadly, I see my workload about to increase. And before you jump to conclusions that we should not follow the government restrictions to stop coronavirus, that is not the case.
As we flatten the curve of coronavirus, we cause a spike in suicides.
There are some who argue that the coronavirus containment strategy will cause more deaths than Covid-19. (1)
If we go by empirical data from the past, we should expect 5,000 or more suicides directly linked to economic impact caused by shutting down our economy.
As a caring society, we need to discuss what we can do to minimize the effect. Masks and hand sanitizer will not fix this suicidal problem. But first, let’s look at the evidence.
A study that examined the social costs of the 2008 crisis explored the link between increases in rates of unemployment and suicide. Their research concluded that suicide associated with unemployment was elevated by about 20–30% indicating 4,983 excess suicides caused by the 2008 economic crisis. (2)
Economic factors turned out to be a good predictor of increased suicide rates with a significant impact among people aged 25–34. (3)
Worldwide, unemployment causes 45,000+ suicides a year. (4)
What’s more, the data suggests that not all job losses necessarily have an equal impact, as the effect on suicide risk appears to be stronger where being out of work is uncommon.
WHY IS THIS SO
Being made unemployed is devastating. The impact is not simply the economic pressure of coping with reduced income. Work provides status and structure to our daily lives.
Behind these statistics lie personal and family tragedies, the long-term impact of which is difficult to measure. I for one had a brother take his own life. Those who know the impact of a suicide can speak to the personal pain this form of death causing emotional devastation well beyond the loss of the loved one. The blame, shame and guilt for those left behind can be brutal.
Suicide is a complex travesty that is the destructive and final result of many factors.
The link between unemployment rates and suicide has been made through previous hard times. However, we are in new territory that multiples the known suicide ideation factors.
Without income, being full of anxiety, no savings, uncertainty if and how to get out of the financial mess, being isolated, and with a nonstop stream of messages of doom around us, we have the perfect petri dish of mental breakdown leading to helplessness that sadly can lead to suicide.
Short of our intervention, based on historical data and the plethora of suicidal factors, the potential for losing more lives than ever provide a somber reality in this moment of time.
THE GOOD NEWS
Social support from both family and friends seems to protect unemployed people from experiencing suicidal ideation. (5)
I agree that we should have physical distancing to stop the spread of this virus, but now more than ever, we do not need social distancing. Rather than wait for this devastating coronavirus pandemic to pass and we look back at all of the loss of life from suicide with sorrow, do something. Spread the word for others to bring this tough subject into the conversation.
The research and basic common sense tells us all that we are hurting and for some, that pain and anxiety can reach a point of no return.
Don’t treat social media as a megaphone, treat it like a telephone.
Reach out individually with great care to those you know that have lost their income, lost their business, feeling overwhelmed with anxiety to provide love, support and guidance.
If you have to break the rules to drive over to a friend’s home to provide food, money or even a dangerous hug, do it.
Love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or the NAMI helpline at 800-950-6264.
(2) University of Zurich https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(14)00118-7/fulltext
(3) National Institute of Health (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5451921/)
(4) The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/11/unemployment-causes-45000-suicides-a-year-worldwide-finds-study
(5) National Institute of Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30810419