Police, psychologist worry about possible suicide increase during coronavirus pandemic

If you are experiencing suicidal symptoms, contact the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255

If you are experiencing suicidal symptoms, contact the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255

San Antonio – Local police and psychologists are preparing for a possible increase in suicide calls as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

“Right now, it is a tough time across the nation, where people are fearful of getting infected or fearful about their family getting it,” said Matt Schima of the Cibolo Police Department. “Many are experiencing job loss. You know, our budgets are based on expenses and income and if income goes away, that is a very difficult position to be in.”

Dr. Lindsay Bira, a clinical health psychologist, agrees with Schima, saying the uncertainty behind the virus is impacting people on many levels.

“We have a lot of social isolation and a huge disruption of our norm,” Bira said. “People are having mental health symptoms, a lot. If you are human and alive you will have symptoms. It just depends on the range and what kind. I am worried about increased rate of suicide as a result of the stressors people are facing.”

Bira said the thought of suicide is all a part of your brain trying to cope with this extent of change.

“There is a lot of uncertainty which the human brain absolutely hates,” Bira said. “That causes a lot of stress, so there are three factors that impact us. Social isolation, uncertainty and the loss either of a stable life or a job or just fun things to do.”

Schima added that the heaviest burden has fallen on the backs of parents.

“Parents that are now working from home or may have lost their job are now the teacher, the parent and the provider, and that is a lot of pressure that gets put on parents nowadays,” Schima said.

Suicidal thoughts can also impact children and teens due to isolation.

“The best way to approach a young child or teen about this subject is to directly ask them,” Bira said. “If they are not thinking about suicide, they will respond quickly with an answer of no. If they are thinking about suicide, they will more and likely hesitate before answering. The best thing parents can do is to keep them active and engaged with a consistent schedule. We don’t want people to get lost in this repetition of our days. We want things to anchor us. So the more things parents can put in their schedules the better.”

She said adults need to stay active and in contact with others as well.

“People who are in midlife or older life tend to be more at risk because they are more socially isolated and sometimes even dealing with medical illnesses,” Bira said. “We just have to remember, everything is going to process through. We have to be patient. When our identity gets disrupted, our brain tries to cope. We define ourselves by career, family life and so forth. We need to recreate our identity. Nothing is ever over forever unless they choose it and that is never the answer.”

Bira said utilizing technology is helpful.

“We need to get people connected so they do not feel as if they are in this alone,” Bira said. “We don’t want people to feel isolated and lonely through this or socially disconnected even though that is the stressors we are facing.”

More importantly, Bira and Schima stress reaching out for help.

“We don’t want people to feel shame when having suicidal thoughts,” Bira said. “That would isolate them more. We have to say, ‘There is no shame in this.’ Of course, your brain is doing this because everything feels so heavy. It is your brain trying to cope but we can’t believe in that brain trick.”

Bira said you can always call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Bira added there is another way to be in touch with a mental health professional.

“The best way to find a therapist is to go to https://www.psychologytoday.com/us, click on the therapist finder tool and enter your zip code in your city and look at the therapist profile.”

Bira said there is no stigma for contacting a person for help.

“We need to understand the tricks of the brain,” Bira said. “We all have a brain and it is tricky. Is not made to make sense of times like this. We have flare ups. That is normal. We are human. We are alive. We just have to take care of ourselves and foster positive relationships and do things that make us realize that life is always worth living.”

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.


About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray is a reporter with KSAT12 News.