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The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) today warned that the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate suicide risk factors, urging people to speak about the issue in an open and responsible manner, remain connected even during physical distancing, and learn to identify warning signs to prevent it.
According to PAHO, data from recent studies show an increase in distress, anxiety and depression, particularly among health care workers. These, in addition to violence, alcohol use disorders, substance abuse, and feelings of loss, are important factors that can increase a person’s risk of deciding to take their own lives, it noted.
“We still don’t know how increased depression, domestic violence or substance use will impact suicide rates in the region, but it’s important to take a minute to talk about it, support each other in these pandemic times, and know the warning signs of suicide to help prevent it,” said Renato Oliveira e Souza, PAHO’s head of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
Every September 10, since 2003, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), promotes World Suicide Prevention Day. This year’s theme is Working Together to Prevent Suicide.
In the Americas, an estimated 100,000 lives are taken annually, according to the latest available data from 2016, the organisation said. It added that most suicides in the region (36 per cent) occur in people between the age of 25 and 44, and those between the age of 45 and 59 (26 per cent).
Guyana and Suriname have the highest suicide rates in the region.
The organisation explained that across the world, suicide rates in men remain higher than for women, and account for about 78 per cent of all suicide deaths. Three times more men than women are killed in high-income countries, but in low- and middle-income countries the rate is 1.5 men for each woman, it added.
“This 2020 we find ourselves in very unexpected and challenging circumstances as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the new coronavirus has probably had an effect on everyone’s mental well-being. And that’s why this year, more than ever, it’s crucial that we work together to prevent suicide,” Oliveira e Souza stressed.
The PAHO said staying connected to each other and being aware of signs of suicide risk and how to respond is especially important to prevent suicide.
The organisation further noted that most suicides are preceded by verbal or behavioural warning signs such as talking about: wanting to die, feeling great guilt or shame, or feeling a burden on others. Other signs are feeling empty, hopeless, trapped, or with no reason to live; feeling extremely sad, anxious, agitated, or full of anger; or with unbearable pain, whether emotional or physical, it said.
Additionally, the PAHO explained that behavioral changes such as making a plan or researching ways to die; staying away from friends, saying goodbye, giving away important items or making a will; doing very risky things like driving at extreme speed; showing extreme mood swings; eating or sleeping too much or too little; using drugs or alcohol more often can be warning signs of suicide.