Suicide prevention has never been more important with many facing isolation and unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Massachusetts advocates who are raising awareness and urging people to seek help.

The Boston-based Samaritans’ suicide prevention phone and text Helpline has seen a surge in calls and messages during the COVID-19 crisis.

Calls were up 23% between March and June compared to last year, and texts were up 86% in the same time period, according to Samaritans Executive Director Kathy Marchi.

“We were anticipating higher levels of people needing to reach us based on isolation and anxiety around the virus, and the long-term impacts of finance, housing, food and relationships,” Marchi said.

“The level of calls and texts has come down a bit, but it just continues to exceed any expectations we had,” she added, noting that texts remain up 75%.

People seriously considering suicide is significantly higher during the pandemic, according to a recent U.S. survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 11% of respondents to the survey reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the June survey, compared to 4.3% in 2018.

The percentage of respondents who reported having seriously considered suicide was significantly higher among respondents aged 18-24 years (25.5%); minority racial/ethnic groups (Hispanic respondents 18.6%, non-Hispanic black respondents 15.1%); unpaid caregivers for adults (30.7%); and essential workers (21.7%).

“This is a big concern,” said Marketa Wills, a psychiatrist and co-founder of Healthy Mind MDs. “We can potentially have a COVID-related suicide surge if we don’t all lean in and work to prevent it.

“We really have to be on the lookout for those who lost jobs, and those who are socially isolated and alone,” she added.

In Brookline, police have been receiving more requests from family members to do well-being checks on loved ones battling depression, according to Annabel Lane, a social worker on staff at the Brookline Police Department.

“Before the pandemic, it was a lot easier for family members to swing by in person,” Lane said. “Now we’re seeing an increase in requests from people worried about someone.”

“It’s really challenging for families, not having that same level of connection,” added Lane, who frequently responds with officers who have received crisis intervention training.

She urges people to reach out for help.

“I really encourage people not to give up and don’t hesitate to get that extra support,” Lane said. “It’s not the time to be shy.”

The Samaritans Boston Marathon team is raising money for suicide prevention services, including its phone and text Helpline, suicide prevention workshops, and SafePlace support groups for those who have lost someone to suicide.

Jacqueline Patel, 21, a member of the marathon team, lost her brother Alex to suicide a few years ago.

“There are so many people struggling with depression and mental health, and the isolation only exacerbates those issues,” said Patel, who’s running the virtual Boston Marathon during the week of Sept. 7 to 14. “It makes it even more important now to provide people who are struggling with the resources to fight through what they’re going through.”

 

For help or information:

For more information, visit the Samaritans website at https://samaritanshope.org.

The Samaritans Statewide Helpline is 1-877-870-HOPE (4673), and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


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