I did a data collection at the hospital I used to work at when I was still there. I examined the medical records from nineteen suicides that occurred over the course of three years. They were all completed within three months of discharge from an inpatient unit. This was perhaps six years ago. So no pandemic. No cheeto as President yet. Life was supposedly good.
I found some patterns. 18 out of 19 completed suicides were white people. I remember asking a Black nurse manager if she was surprised by that. She laughed and said “Oh no, we take care of each other. We know the meaning and value of community. White people are more isolated. Make no mistake we have mental illness in the Black community and so much stigma. But we take care of each other.”
The rates of completed suicide from 2009-2018 nationally were double for white people than Black people- the following link shows a nice graph. https://sprc.org/scope/racial-ethnic-disparities
It is no surprise then that in the midst of a pandemic when white people, who suck at community on a good day, are killing themselves more frequently. And I’m sure we will see an increase in suicides in the Black community also during this time because there is less “together” and more isolation.
When I think about the last year I think immediately of the isolation. I am grateful to have my kids. But I know so many who don’t have kids or who can’t see their kids because of exposure risks both ways. I know people who received chemotherapy during COVID and couldn’t see any one. I know people who have given birth and they couldn’t see any one when they were pregnant, and couldn’t see any one after they gave birth.
My own life personally and professionally has been touched far too intimately with suicide in my extended family, among former co-workers, and in my work in mental health.
I don’t go into my therapist groups online anymore because at least weekly there is a post about a client who committed suicide. There used to be posts like that maybe twice a year.
The news and politicians keep talking about the economy- which sucks yes. People are jobless. Homeless. Without medical insurance. But the most pressing, distressing, and completely devastating issue that we are not talking about enough is the ever present unrelenting alone-ness. I have felt it too in shades. Sundays are my dreaded days without my kids because they are now with my ex.
Some Sunday’s I’m okay. But then it snowed. The snow is still here. Feet of it. I can’t go hiking anymore. I can’t go to a bar for a drink with a friend. Because we can’t just go to bars anymore. I can’t go to hot yoga. Because my one studio is closed and my other studio doesn’t make people wear masks.
There have been hours spent binging Hulu. There have been hours spent catching up on my accounting and billing for work. There have been minutes of true despair that come from a deep loneliness that can be intolerable.
Divorce on a good day sucks. Divorce and splitting custody mid-pandemic, mid-snowy Winter just blows.
I yelled at my therapist one day. He told me that it would be good for me to have time alone to do self care. I said through angry tears, “I’ve done that. I’ve been alone. I was twenty-one in a city after a break up getting through nursing school seven hours from my family and friends. I’ve been alone. It sucked. I know how to live alone and be by myself. I don’t want to do it again. I want my kids. I want to be able to see my friends without masks. I want to hug my friends. I have two friends over sixty I haven’t seen in a year! I want to see them! I want to tell every one who tells me it will be good for me to be alone to go fuck themselves.”
After I cried a bit he said, “I think you just told me to go fuck myself.”
I laughed and agreed. I said, “Well this is what you get when you agree to treat a nurse;)”
I have coping skills. I have a therapist. I have family I can see (many who I cannot). I have a couple friends I can see (many who I cannot). I am now fully vaccinated. I know rationally I am blessed. But I can see how any one with fragile mental health, with no treatment, no friends, or no family can dive down the rabbit hole of isolation and see no light through the darkness.
We never thought this would go on for a year. Life after will never be the same as life before. That is fully sinking in for those of us who have known births, deaths, divorces, marriages, loss, and life. Because even though it seems stagnant life has gone on through this year of stagnation.
I grieve all those we have lost to COVID-19. The ones with the virus. And the ones with the terrible diseases of Depression. Bipolar Disorder. PTSD. Grief. I grieve the lives lost due to the devastating isolation this illness created.
I hope the one thing on the other side of this that changes is our community; or lack thereof. I hope we never take for granted that we can have each other for support and love. If only the people dying by their own hand could feel connected to some one, anyone, it might save them.
To put it in perspective I know of four suicides completed in the last week. Four. Two were teenagers. In a week. I personally and professionally pre-Covid would hear of four maybe within eighteen months to two years. Four suicides in a week. This cannot continue. So many more lives will be lost.
If you haven’t talked to a friend in a while who you know is single or doesn’t have family or doesn’t have kids or is fresh post divorce or who you know just may not have any connections outside of you…please give them a call.
My cousin called me on Valentines Day. It meant the world to me. I think most people don’t know what to say to some one freshly separated on a holiday about love. Valentine’s Day was never a thing with my ex. It was more a thing with my Dad. He would always get me a card and a gift. Usually chocolates that I despised, which is hard to do, because I generally love chocolate. But it was the thought that counts.
No horrible heart shaped chocolate this year. No card that looked like it had been beaten up and thrown around his truck. I can’t think of a day recently where I’ve missed him so much.
Laughing and talking with my cousin on my ear buds while I braved the mall was just what I needed. She coached me through Sephora and we laughed through the Disney store.
Any connection is so needed right now. People are dying. People are depressed. People miss people. You are people. You have these people in your lives. Call them.
Some of my clients are stable in terms of medication. But they beg me to be seen sooner when I try and push them out three months. They are often the single people with few friends and few family and no one they can see in person. I’ve been seeing patients monthly and doing nothing with their medications. It feels better to them I think to know they have a commitment in a month. Some one cares to see them in a month. I have a number of these clients. I have some who insist on being seen every two or three weeks right now.
I never fight them on it. Because I see them. I feel it too sometimes; the loneliness. If they feel better knowing they have to see me in two weeks. Fine with me.
Every one who works in mental health is seeing this. This desperation to be seen. We are trying to meet the need but we need help. We need you. People. Call your people. Make a community again. Connect in this age of isolation. Please. Save. A. Life.