President Trump recently warned that the recession related to the COIVD-19 shutdown will result in “suicides by the thousands.” He clearly referenced the economic collapse as the potential fulcrum to drive this mass self-annihilation. Previous research has shown a link between recessions and suicide rate. However, this research is inconclusive and several studies have indicated that the link between economic recession and suicide may be incidental to other factors.
As income shrinks the money available for mental health services also decreases. At-risk populations may be further jeopardized during economic recession because of the inability to pay for therapies that for them could be life saving. Countries like Sweden and Finland who have a robust network for social protection have shown no such link between recession and suicide rate.
Unfortunately for the citizens of the United States, no such network for social protection exists.
Like the President, the CDC has recognized this potential existential threat to the safety and well-being of Americans. They refer people to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services disaster distress helpline. This is intended to support those experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression. If that describes you, then by all means I hope they can provide some solace in this time of social-isolation.
A meta-analysis of the research on recession and suicide rates indicates that additional research is necessary. The factors that influence increased suicides have not been adequately addressed. It is possible that indebtedness is less a factor than the need to work. However, this current crisis does not allow for a national return to work strategy in the immediate future. So we are left with a monetary bailout, assuming state and local governments can overcome the complete collapse of systems designed to support a small percentage of the population and not the vast number currently crashing the inadequate systems attempting to provide support, such as state unemployment systems. Hopefully those systems will begin delivering the needed monetary relief to the millions in need.
For those without work, the monetary bailout may not be enough. An analysis of the research on this topic cites a major weakness is the inability to draw causal associations. The implication from this research suggest that suicide prevention strategies need to be developed during times where the risks are high. Times such as these.
While the hotline may provide support for some, and the monetary bailout may support those in need, there are additional steps each of us can take to protect our mental health during this crisis. The need to find purposeful daily actions is expressed by the majority of the population through their work. What are the consequences when that comes to an abrupt halt, and how can we overcome meaninglessness?
For many, turning to social media is an outlet to express this need. Everyone from entertainers to athletic trainers have begun creating content on social media to continue to create a sense of meaning and purpose during this crisis. That is the essential need we all have, to continue to contribute to the greater good. If you are unable to engage in your work it is essential that you continue to pursue purposeful actions everyday. Actions designed to add value to others and increase your impact have the potential to help you flourish during this worldwide struggle to survive.
- Focus on others: Perhaps you can’t sing, tell a joke or teach someone to downward dog through social media, but we can all connect with others. I have been moved by people in my neighborhood using the Nextdoor app to offer grocery shopping and dog walking for seniors. The point is, if we think about others’ needs beyond our own, we can find a way to add value through our efforts, even if we don’t call it work.
- Have an Attitude of Gratitude: practice daily reminders of the things you are grateful for, even in this time of great upheaval, death and pain. As Viktor Frankl taught us in Man’s Search for Meaning, our survival is incumbent upon our ability to remain grateful and optimistic even when faced with great suffering.
- Continue to Develop: A pattern of lifetime growth is essential to personal development. Use this time to focus on obtaining new knowledge. Whether you pursue a new hobby, increase work related knowledge, or both, focusing on self-development will provide opportunities to maintain focus on positive personal growth. You have the opportunity to return to the workplace with new skills and knowledge.
This crisis will come to an end. We see life beginning to return to normal in the epicenter, it will return to normal, or a new version of normal for all of us. In the meantime, by caring for others, being grateful, and focusing on personal development you can continue to live a life full of meaning and purpose.