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Forum – Mental Health, Suicide and COVID

The Humanist Association of Toronto

Every Saturday we meet to discuss a topic decided upon the previous week. These are topics of humanist interest, from a humanist perspective.

The topic of the discussion will be decided in a prior meeting, usually two weeks in advance. This week’s topic is: Mental Health, Suicide and COVID by HAT member Ana Rodrigues. Join us, won’t you?

“One in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 say they’ve considered suicide in the past month because of the pandemic, according to new CDC data that paints a bleak picture of the nation’s [USA] mental health during the crisis.”[1][2]

“The data also flags a surge of anxiety and substance abuse, with more than 40 percent of those surveyed saying they experienced a mental or behavioural health condition connected to the Covid-19 emergency. The CDC study analyzed 5,412 survey respondents between June 24 and 30.”[1][2]

Pre-COVID: ‘Suicidal ideation – Thoughts about killing oneself; these thoughts may include a plan. … The World Health Organization conducted community surveys in 21 countries (n >100,000 individuals) and found that the 12-month prevalence of suicidal ideation (thoughts) was approximately 2 percent, and that the lifetime prevalence was 9 percent. … In the United States, the annual prevalence of suicidal ideation in adults is 4 percent.” [3]

COVID presented humanity with an unprecedented challenge: most of us, social beings, were suddenly and forcibly confined to our homes.

Mental health issues followed, specially between the most vulnerable, such as unpaid caretakers, as most of the care for the house and children reverted to them with support systems closing (relatives, schools, daycare).

Some questions arise:
1. The results are from USA, do we have evidence that the same thing is happening here?
2.. What are the mental health impacts of being isolated for a long time?
3. Why are young adults more vulnerable than the rest of the population?
4. Is it possible to mitigate or prevent this in a safe way?

The CDC paper [2] suggests:
•Strengthening economic supports to reduce financial strain;
•Addressing stress from experienced racial discrimination;
•Promoting social connectedness; and
•Supporting persons at risk for suicide.

The Canadian government [4] suggests:
• Stay informed but take breaks from social media and the news.
• Practise physical distancing, but stay socially connected to friends and family through: email, phone calls, video chats, social media
• Practise mindfulness by: stretching, meditating, taking deep breaths
• Try to: eat healthy meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep
• Follow safe food handling and cooking practices to keep you and your family safe by killing the virus and lowering your risk of infection.
• Think about how to use any unexpected flexibility in your daily routine.
• Focus on the positive aspects of your life and things you can control.
• Be kind and compassionate to yourself and others.
• If you can, limit your use of substances.
• If you do use substances, practise safer use and good hygiene.

Is this enough?

5. Could this be the “new normal”? Could we ever adapt to living in a society where social interaction is mostly online?

[1] “CDC: One quarter of young adults contemplated suicide during pandemic” –

[2] “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic” –

[3] “Suicidal ideation and behavior in adults” –

[4] “Taking care of your mental and physical health during the COVID-19 pandemic” –

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