How Would Chicken Little Respond to COVID's Impact on Mental Health AND Suicide? Courageously, laying hope for our most vulnerable. We're responding too.Read Now
“You’re going to have suicides by the thousands. ... People get tremendous anxiety and depression, and you have suicides over things like this when you have terrible economies.” — President Trump
Yes, perhaps as President Trump cavalierly warns us — breaking all common-sense rules about publicly talking about suicide — the sky is falling. But this is not the time to scramble. We must rise to the occasion, recognizing the psychosocial fallout from COVID is massive and will reverberate for years to come.
Let us remember the moral of the traditional Chicken Little story is too have courage even when it feels like the sky is falling. Let’s come together and lay a four letter word for our most vulnerable populations now at an even higher risk of suicide: HOPE.
Otherwise, COVID is going to take an enormous toll on the mental health of Americans. And, cause an unprecedented increase in suicide rates resulting in the preventable loss in life far outweighing the heartbreak caused by the virus itself.
While the nation’s attention is largely focusing on the active physical treatment of patients, suicide populations are at higher risk than ever before. Despite this, they are being overlooked. This must change. And, change immediately.
Our President’s comments do not leave you with a lot of faith in the federal government’s likelihood of responding compassionately nor do his off-handed remarks suggest he is going to direct federal agencies to take any actions to prevent this outcome.
We can’t just sit back and acknowledge — as our Commander in Chief has already gotten that out of the way for us — that yes, we are going to have a problem on our hands of potentially epic proportions.
Nope, not good enough. Not when lives are at stake.
Whenever and where ever people turn — regardless of how much they have in their wallets — they simply must have access to mental health care. Please keep in mind that of those who die by suicide, 90% have an undiagnosed mental illness at the time of their death, most saw a health care professional in the year prior, with up to 45% of individuals visiting their primary care physician within a month of their death.
We must call suicide what it is, a public health epidemic. And, we must fight it as such, with epidemic measures.
We must marshal as many resources as possible and mobilize an all out war on as many fronts as possible to make mental health care on parity with physical health care.
Let me paint a picture for you of what will happen if we don’t courageously respond and give people hope.
What do we Know About Impact of COVID on Mental Health, Suicide and Suicide Attempts?
Some are suggesting we will eventually be stronger as a result of COVID, pointing to research showing people who go through extremely difficult life events can experience significant positive outcomes including improved resiliency, deeper and more meaningful relationships and awareness of personal strengths. However, what we are seeing right now is the exact opposite.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has stressed that “the mental health impact of this pandemic is very real.” But while mental health services are becoming increasingly vital, they are also becoming increasingly strained.
Our nation’s hotlines are overwhelmed as are the counselors who staff them. The American Association of Suicidology reports that many of our nation’s crisis centers “are experiencing dramatic increases in calls.”
A recent LA Time article shares the top concerns expressed by callers to the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center in Century City: anxiety and stress, health issues, relationships, loneliness and isolation. One in five COVID-related calls included “suicidal desire.”
At this point in time, we don’t yet have the hard data we need on suicide or suicide attempts as a result of COVID-19, but here is what we do know.
Putting a Face on Suicide
As Patrick Kennedy suggested, we don’t need to intellectualize suicide, we need to humanize it.
Without the data being in and relying on the historical record, research and common sense, these numbers are just going to get even more heartbreaking.
In an ideal world, regardless of where someone turns for mental health care, it should and simply must be immediately available and affordable. We don’t want there to be any gaps in the system. We don’t want anyone to fall through. We don’t want to lose another life.
What Can and Should be Done? Where Do We Turn and to Whom?
What role can our public and private health care systems, deep-pocket corporate America, federal government, philanthropic sector, nonprofits, and we, as everyday citizens, play? How can our public and private sectors best develop strategies to help those impacted by COVID-19? Minimize the impact and accelerate progress on these social issues?
I believe each and everyone has a responsibility — an obligation — to step up. And, I can’t help wonder, if not now, when? Also, below I walk the talk speaking to what pro-bono role my consulting company, Accelerating Social Good, is prepared to play.
I don’t profess to have all the answers. But, as a mental health and suicide prevention activist and founder and former CEO of Hope Xchange, a mental health nonprofit for the bipolar community which accounts for 50% of the suicide in the U.S., here’s my two cents.
Private and Public Health Care Systems. Please Pay Attention to the Proven Zero Suicide Framework. It’s a No Brainer.
All health and behavioral health care systems who haven’t already done so should adopt the Zero Suicide framework, a continuous quality improvement initiative for transforming suicide prevention. It is an empirical-based approach that has shown dramatic reductions in patient suicide. Someone needs to explain to me why on earth any health care system wouldn’t adopt this approach that has been proven to work? To save lives. This is a no brainer.
Deep-Pocket Corporate America, Step Up and Take Care of Your Employees’ Mental Health. Thank You StarBucks.
Please step up! If you can’t simply see that in times like these, your employees need you to do so, I seriously hope your customers see you for what you are worth. To get you started, consider following Starbuck’s lead. Give all your employees and each of their eligible family members access to 20 therapy sessions a year as part of their mental health benefits.
Also in recent months, Starbucks introduced a number of other employee-focused measures around mental health, including free subscriptions to the leading meditation app, Headspace. If a coffee company can sort this out, surely the rest of our Fortune 500 can too.
Betsy DeVos, Please Read My Briefing. Please Understand Your Job Matters When It Comes To Mental Health Care Of Our Children.
Our schools, when they return to session, simply must be partners in the mental health care of our children as they provide ideal and unique opportunities for both comprehensive mental health care intervention and suicide prevention planning. Early intervention is absolutely critical given 50% of all mental health conditions begin at the age of 14.
Given how incredibly busy our US Secretary of Education is, I have prepared a Briefing for her with key recommendations along with the facts on the state of mental health in our schools. Please note I do not have a political agenda other than saving lives and improving mental health outcomes. That Briefing, Schools Must Be Partners In The Mental Health Care Of Our Children, can be read HERE.
PLEASE Federal Government LISTEN to the Kennedy Forum and Dozens of Leading Advocacy Groups and Respond with Compassion!
On April 8, 2020, the Kennedy Forum and dozens of leading mental health advocacy groups, requested appropriations and policy changes in a “Phase 4” stimulus package, the latest round of relief legislation intended to support individuals and organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Most urgently, more people will need help due to isolation, grief, unemployment, and increased anxiety. And those with existing mental health and substance use disorders must be able to sustain treatment.” — Patrick Kennedy
This common-sense request can be read HERE. And, yes, I absolutely agree that the next stimulus package MUST go further in addressing mental health and addiction. How could we not do so when so much is at stake?
Philanthropic Sector PLEASE Look at Public Health Holistically
Now is a time when impact investors and donor-advised fund donors can really step up and make a significant difference by focusing on people first, particularly our most vulnerable. There is simply no health without mental health.
I understand 'crisis mentality' and giving to those working on the front lines dealing with the physical health ramifications, we need to keep top of mind that public health is holistic. There is simply no health without mental health. Further, as noted earlier, the health of our citizenry is intertwined with the health of our economy.
Our healthcare workers, or more aptly, healthcare heroes, will emerge from this with PTSD after staring death in the face each and every day, as will those survivors of the virus. Ensuring funds go to nonprofits that treat those with PTSD and funding new positions for those who specialist in treating patients once discharged is absolutely imperative.
"This means that COVID-19 treatment ought to not stop once the patients are released from isolation. There seems to be a need for long-term psychological interventions for survivors of the virus." — James Fisher, Author, Are COVID-19 Patients at Risk for PTSD?, Psychology Today
Giving decisions must take all of this into account.
What is ACCELERATING SOCIAL Going to Do? WE'RE Responding Too.
Suicide prevention must be a top public health priority. Nonprofits working in the mental health and wellness space must be adequately funded.
I was just starting to look for a job when COVID hit. As we all know, not the best timing. With that said, I started a consulting company, Accelerating Social Good, with my mate, Erin Macauley, a fellow mental health and suicide prevention advocate, who shares both my purpose and passion. During COVID lock-down here in the States, we are offering remote, pro-bono services to social-sector organizations working in mental health and suicide prevention. Here is more on what we do and how we can help.
As the coronavirus upends every aspect of our lives, we have never needed nonprofits, social impact enterprises and corporate social responsibility initiatives more. And, no where is this need more critical than in mental health care and suicide prevention. We need our mental health organizations and mental wellness initiatives to not only succeed, we need them to thrive.
This is where we come in. Our purpose is to help you accelerate social good so you can achieve your mission faster and attract more funding. And, so those who need mental health care get it. Get it sooner. Get it where and when they need it.
If you have any questions regarding our free consulting services during COVID-19 lock down or would like to schedule a call, please contact us for a free 30 minute call.
Stay safe and stay in place.
NOTE: if you or someone you know needs support during this difficult time, resources can be found HERE.