September is National Suicide Prevention Month. With the rise of suicides due to the mental health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic, suicide prevention and awareness are more important than ever.
I have lived with anxiety and depression all of my life, and I struggled with suicidal thoughts as a teenager. There was a period in my life when I wouldn’t have cared if I didn’t wake up in the morning. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a unique phenomenon. With the rise of suicide rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to learn about suicide awareness and prevention, and to check on yourself and your loved ones.
The Stats Speak for Themselves
The statistics show a rise in mental health problems, increasing the likelihood of suicide. Jack Kelly of Forbes reports the findings of a CDC survey: “Roughly 25% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 say they've considered suicide because of the pandemic. About 30.9% of the respondents said that they ‘had symptoms of anxiety or depression’ and about 26.3% reported trauma and stress-related disorders caused by the outbreak. Over 13% said that they have used alcohol, prescription and/or illegal drugs to deal with their pandemic-induced stress and anxiety.”
25% of young adults, ages 18-24, say they've considered suicide because of the pandemic.
Rates of depression (a major factor in suicides) have tripled since the start of the pandemic. Other factors of suicide in the pandemic include economic stress, social isolation, loss of community, unrelated medical problems, and barriers to mental health treatment.
There are concerns that not enough is being done about the mental health crisis.
With the rise of therapy apps like TalkSpace, the barriers in mental health are starting to drop, but it’s not enough. Though our culture has progressed, seeking mental health treatment is still stigmatized. This phenomenon and the lack of action from the federal government worry mental health experts.
TalkSpace co-founder and CEO Oren Franks told the Washington Post, “People are really afraid. What’s shocking to me is how little leaders are talking about this. There are no White House briefings about it. There is no plan.”
Though our culture has progressed, seeking mental health treatment is still stigmatized.
Other experts think that ignoring this problem will lead to a bigger mental health crisis when the pandemic ends. Paul Gionfriddo, the president of the advocacy group Mental Health America, told the Washington Post, “If we don’t do something about it now, people are going to be suffering from these mental-health impacts for years to come.”
Mental Health Is Still a Taboo Topic
Though our culture has become much more accepting of those who experience mental health struggles, there’s still a long way to go. A perfect example of how far our culture still has to go is the reaction to Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott opening up about his struggles with anxiety and depression after the pandemic began and his brother’s suicide. Prescott opened up in an interview on In Depth with Graham Besinger, and it’s one you shouldn’t miss.
Prescott received a lot of praise for his vulnerability and courage, but that didn’t stop one of the most prominent commentators in sports media from criticizing him. Skip Bayless of Fox Sports said, “I have deep compassion for clinical depression, but when it comes to the quarterback of an NFL team, you know this better than I do, it’s the ultimate leadership position in sports, am I right about that? You are commanding an entire franchise...And they’re all looking to you to be their CEO, to be in charge of the football team. Because of all that, I don’t have sympathy for him going public with ‘I got depressed’ and ‘I suffered depression early in COVID to the point that I couldn’t even go work out.’ Look, he’s the quarterback of America’s team.”
Prescott responded to Bayless’s criticism, telling reporters, "I think being a leader is about being genuine and being real. If I wouldn't have talked about those things to the people I did, I wouldn't realize that I, my friends, and a lot more people go through them, and they are as common as they are...If you're not thinking the right way, then you're not going to be able to lead people the right way. So, before I can lead, I got to make sure my mind's in the right place to do that...I think it's important to be vulnerable, to be genuine, to be transparent. I think that goes a long way when you're a leader and when your voice is being heard by so many.”
“If you're not thinking the right way, then you're not going to be able to lead people the right way.”
I can’t help but agree with Prescott on this one. He’s the quarterback to the most popular team in the NFL, and he has 1.2 million Twitter followers and 1.9 million Instagram followers. His influence is huge, and speaking up about mental health struggles makes him a better leader. This also shows society that if the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys can experience anxiety and depression, anyone can. This helps decrease the mental health stigma, as well as encourages others to speak up about their mental health. Bayless’s comments reflect how much further we have to go, as well as everything that’s wrong with how our culture perceives mental health.
What Can You Do To Help?
First and foremost, remember that the Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-8255. Save it in your phone and feel free to use it anytime you need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried a friend or family member is in trouble. I’ve used this numerous times, and the people are kind, helpful, and trustworthy.
It’s also important to educate yourself on the warning signs and risk factors of suicide, especially the signs that are "easy to miss" like emotional distance and changes in sleeping patterns. The easiest way to help is to check in on yourself, your friends, and your family regularly. Be honest about how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Be honest about how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Mental illness is as serious and real as physical illness, so don’t let the fear of being judged stop you. Your loved ones would much rather hear that you’re feeling this way and asking for help rather than you took your own life. Every life, no matter how difficult, is worth living.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the growing rates of anxiety and depression have led to a rise in suicides. This September, it’s more important than ever to check on yourself and loved ones, as well as to educate yourself on suicide prevention and awareness. One call or one Google search can save a life, and every life is worth living.
For more information on suicide prevention, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.