COVID-19 and Suicide: The need for global mental health promotion

Suicide has been an issue of public health concern before the COVID-19 pandemic. Some reports suggest an increase in suicide during the peak of the spread of the infection in some developed countries. This spike appears to be more among those who have lost loved ones or resources. There have also been reports of suicide among frontline health workers who have experienced intense despair and helplessness.

We still have a fraction of the population of most countries who doubt the existence of a virus or the fact that the infection might be deadly. Others acknowledge that the virus can be deadly for some people, however, they see themselves as being untouchable or immune to the virus or its “deadliness”. Several video clips went viral in which some persons in Nigeria were seen washing their hands and drinking the wastewater to register their defiance of the hand-washing guidelines. While there is a possibility that these persons are simply manifesting “the opposite of wisdom”; what if they simply have suicidal tendencies?

With the annual rate of suicide worldwide always hovering around 1 million people, we know that 20 times this number would have attempted to kill themselves. We also know that the number of persons who are motivated enough to attempt suicide is a fraction of those who have suicidal thoughts. It is apt to assume that there are a lot of people who might have underlying suicidal tendencies before the onset of this pandemic.

The psychosocial and economic encumbrances imposed upon everyone by this pandemic have the potential of worsening preexisting suicidal tendencies or triggering off a fresh wave of suicidality if care is not taken.
The psychosocial and economic encumbrances imposed upon everyone by this pandemic has the potential of worsening preexisting suicidal tendencies or triggering off a fresh wave of suicidality if care is not taken.

Hopelessness remains a prominent emotional facilitator of the wish to die when suicide is explored. Individuals who have not much access to resources for a living might not see a need to comply with “our” guidelines since death for them might be liberating rather than terminating. Our approach in the control of this pandemic must, therefore, focus on attending to the basic needs of everyone and enhancing the hope to stay alive!!

This is the time to emphasize “not leaving anyone behind”.

Our strategies for fighting this pandemic must be guided by the principles of global mental health promotion and suicide prevention. There is a major component of this pandemic spread that is dependent on human behavior and not just the virulent nature of the virus itself. We need to ensure that the people are mentally and emotionally fit to be able to adopt behavioral changes we are trying to communicate to them.

Our strategy must start now and must continue even when this pandemic is brought under control.

To be continued……

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Ola Ibigbami

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7 Responses

  1. This is quite insightful. This remind me of the story of a sister who told her Pastor that she is afraid she might be infected with covid-19.That she was contemplating of commiting suicide in order not to be infected.There are usually underlying psychiatric or neurotic problem that lead to suicide or suicidal ideation. The social factors will just aggravate it.In addressing this problem,the government, NGO,Faith BasedOrganisations,traditional institutions,opinion leaders,philantropists,professional bodies like psychiatric,psychologist should come together to provide wholistic solutions to the mental problems associated with the covid-19 pandemic.

    • Thanks, Dr. Alade!
      We really need to do more to promote people’s mental health now, more than ever before.

    • Thanks a lot!
      This pandemic will challenge our mental health more than our physical health at the end of it all.

  2. Thank you sir for this article. The mental health implication of the pandemic cannot be over emphasized. The unfortunate thing is that this area of human health seems not to be of much concern like the physical health, especially in developing countries. I believe awareness program through the media will go a long way in equipping people psychologically and thereby prevent mental health breakdown in the predisposed individuals.

  3. Indeed we could not but keep hope alive in these difficult times…sucide is never an option. Thanks you Dr ola… Can’t wait for you to conclude

  4. This is a very good topic or discussion that must be brought to the frontline while caring for those that have the disease, or their relatives.
    Infact majority of people have lost touch with their normal social norms because of lockdown, restriction of movement, and social distancing.
    Preventing churches and fellowships from holding has exposed alot to loneliness.
    Cost of living is on the rise with limited resources to cater for it and a lot are feeling the heat.
    All these predispose to depression and subsequent suicidal ideations, attempts and suicide.
    May we continue to trust in God to see us all through this period.
    Sir, I want to acknowledge the knowledge we get through these posts and may God continue to grant you more insight.

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