Early in 2020, as the pandemic was picking up speed, epidemiologists at the National Institutes of Health predicted that the loneliness and fear linked to dealing with the virus would lead to a serious jump in suicides.
It looks like they were wrong.
Last month, researchers at Britain’s Manchester University counted up the numbers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Sweden, and the United States to report in the British Medical Journal that worldwide suicides hadn’t gone up. In fact, in some places, they’d gone down.
Which doesn’t mean we can sound the All Clear on COVID-19’s psychological misery.
As David Austern, Psy.D. in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, explains, “The pandemic has been associated with increases in depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as negative impacts on wellbeing. Symptoms normal in response to such situations.”
One group is particularly vulnerable, says Leo Sher, M.D., at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. People who survive a round with the virus may continue to experience headaches, dizziness, seizures, and other neurological conditions which can morph into psychological problems that “need long-term psychological interventions.”
What to do about it? Even in the absence of face-to-face meetings, Dr. Austern calls hotlines “an important tool in offering convenient counseling and resources.”
Enter the NYC Health Department. Their new Project Hope Emotional Support Helpline offers free, confidential and anonymous emotional support service that New Yorkers of all ages can dial up from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Need help before or after hours? Click on the NYC WELL website for directions to phone, chat and online info 24/7.
Beating the Blues
Both Project Hope and NYC WELL are positively bursting with ways to beat the COVID blues, starting with the basics and moving up the scale to the truly life-saving.
First the obvious: Take care of your body and be kind to your mind. Stay active, stick with your boring but healthful a balanced diet, and avoid caffeine, alcohol and non-prescription drugs that might interfere with your getting as good a night’s sleep as possible. Connect with friends and family via electronic chats to maintain social interaction, and soothe your brain by limiting social media and keeping your news reports to reasonable limits. No more than three news reports a day of COVID stats past, present and future should do it.
Finally, there’s the Big One: Suicide. If negative feelings become overwhelming, reach out for support. If the person in distress is a friend or relative, be a good listener and pay attention to warning signs such as their painting themselves as a burden or experiencing mood swings or actually saying goodbye. You may have heard that talking about suicide encourages people to actually do it. Not true, says NYC WELL. In fact, by talking, you are offering an opportunity for your loved one to open up and allow you to help by bringing in the professionals.
In June 1897, when Mark Twain was traveling abroad, The New York Herald, having heard a rumor that he was in poor health, reported that he was “grievously ill and possibly dying.” The rival New York Journal, which had sent Twain to London to cover Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebration, gleefully quoted his now-famous response: “The report of my death was greatly exaggerated.”
With luck and care, NY Project Hope and NYC WELL plan to make that true for New Yorkers.