As people stay home to help end the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), behavioral health professionals are worried about the impact isolation and distancing may have on people with mental health conditions, according to several media reports.
They are concerned because social contact can be a vital aspect of support or treatment for people. Enforced isolation can exacerbate mental conditions and contribute to things like worsening depression and suicide.
The danger is real
Beth Looney understands how serious the risk of suicide can be. Her life came to a screeching halt nine years ago when her husband, Scott, committed suicide. Scott had been suffering with depression, but his death was unexpected and devastating for Looney and their four children.
“My journey with mental illness and suicide – I guess I was pretty sheltered and didn’t really feel that it would happen to my family. And it did,” said Looney.
The traumatic experience turned Looney into a suicide prevention advocate, and led her into a career with OSF HealthCare as a behavioral health navigator. She spends her time helping people get the correct behavioral health care for their needs.
Looney says a major issue with suicide is the lack of comfort people have with simply discussing it.
“There’s a stigma attached with mental illness, there’s a stigma that’s attached with suicide, and it’s a comfort level,” she said. “You have to be comfortable saying that word, and some people avoid it at all costs because they’re scared.”
Check in on loved ones
However, Looney said to pay attention to signs that a friend or loved one is struggling with depression or other mental issues. She said one of the best things we can do is be aware of any changes. People who may be feeling hopeless and who are at risk can benefit by knowing others care.
“Take the time when it’s right, in a quiet place, not with a whole group of people, and just asking, saying, ‘Hey are you OK? I’ve noticed that you’re not acting like yourself and I care and am really worried about you,’” Looney said.
Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts is advised to call 911. There is also a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline staffed by trained counselors, is completely anonymous and is available 24/7. That number is 1-800-273-8255.
“It’s OK to reach out for help, and that doesn’t mean that you’re a weak person,” urged Looney. “Really give yourself some credit that you realize that it’s OK – you don’t have to do this alone, and there are people who care.”
What to watch for
Warning signs someone may be at risk of committing suicide, according to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Extreme mood swings
Warning signs to watch for in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
- Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
- Excessive worry or sadness
- Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
- Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
- Poor school performance or avoiding school
- Difficulty with attention and concentration
- Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
- Unexplained headaches or body pain
- Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
(Note, not all children and teens respond to stress or illness the same way.)
If you or someone you love is dealing with mental illness or stress, OSF SilverCloud provides access to online behavioral health tools, as well as an integrated live-person supporter who can provide you with connectivity to in-person resources or telehealth services if you need it.
If you would like help accessing resources, including OSF SilverCloud, call the Behavioral Health Navigation Link at (309) 308-8150.