Home Wellness What You Need To Know About Loneliness and Suicide During COVID-19

What You Need To Know About Loneliness and Suicide During COVID-19

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I spent a lot of time writing about men’s mental health while finishing up my graduate thesis at Johns Hopkins. Loneliness and suicide were recurring themes. And now, during our national quarantine, those who need help may not be getting it, those who are lonely aren’t able to go out, and the solution to prevent suicide is unclear.

On average, 129 Americans die every day by suicide. Suicide is the seventh-leading cause of death for all men and the second-leading cause of death for men in their thirties in the United States. Men kill themselves at a rate of 4x higher than women

Suicide isn’t just a problem for American men. According to research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, men have a higher suicide rate than women in every country in the world. Regionally, the ratio for male and female deaths is highest in Europe (4:1) and lowest in the Eastern Mediterranean region (1.1:1). In other words, the problem with men and suicide isn’t a particularly American problem. It’s a global situation that we need to be thinking about solving—and COVID-19 is exacerbating the problem, so addressing men, loneliness, and suicide today is something we need to come together and solve as quickly as possible.

Quarantine and suicidal ideations

We are in week two of social distancing. Numbers of cases of coronavirus continue to grow, but there are early signs in Germany that high-levels of testing and mass banning of social events are working. But as every day passes, more people continue to be isolated from those that they love, and there is an increased risk of suicide.

A review of studies on the connection between loneliness and suicide identified that social isolation is an insufficient measure to understand the connection between people. Instead, they should focus on studying the link between loneliness, “defined as the subjective feeling of being alone or without the desired level of intimate and social relationships,” and suicide rather than just being alone. The studies revealed that while people who live alone were more likely to feel lonely, that wasn’t a given. Some people who lived alone felt connected to their community still. Men who feel lonely, and are less attached to social groups, are more likely to commit suicide.

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An analysis of young people’s posts on a suicide prevention forum recognized that “many of the posts that spoke about loneliness specifically mentioned feeling isolated from peers or lacking friendship.” But it wasn’t just feeling lonely that affected these young people, but it was how disconnected they felt from the people around them. Even though they may have family nearby, the lack of connection correlated to a high number of posts on the forums.

For anyone, it’s incredibly important to have meaningful conversations with friends and peers. It’s already known that building those deeper connections amongst male friendships is difficult; thus, it makes sense that “a sense of loneliness and the absence of people to talk to in meaningful ways” would be a common reason for feeling suicidal.

According to a 2019 survey by Cigna, three in five Americans feel lonely, and that 24% of Americans say their mental health is fair or poor. These numbers are attributed to a lack of social support, poor physical and mental health, negative feelings about themselves, and a lack of balance in their lives. The study also revealed that younger generations are more vulnerable to feeling loneliness, while 46% of men admit to feelings of loneliness.

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It’s important to note that social isolation in itself isn’t the same as loneliness: but those who are already feeling lonely will feel the adverse mental health effects of the coronavirus quarantine more so than those who feel connected to the world. If we look back at the men in the cancer survivor support group, many of them admitted to feeling lonely during their treatments and wished that their men’s support group existed before they needed it.

We have entered a period when social distancing is the key to survival for a lot of people across the country, and at what risk are we putting men who already struggle with building close male friendships, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts?

Many of those struggling with mental illness have in-person doctor’s appointments or are a part of in-person support groups. Obviously during our quarantine, neither of those options are available. In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Christina Bradley, manager of support programs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City, said, “We hear a lot of people saying I feel very alone, I’m very anxious and scared. We’re getting a lot more calls about suicide and suicidal thinking.” In Portland, the police department tweeted out that calls involving suicide attempts have increased 23% since the Oregon State of Emergency was announced. There is a genuine worry for those with mental illness being unable to interact with support groups or reach out to their therapists.

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Self-isolation doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone quarantined will feel lonely. But those who are already feeling disconnected from the world, and are now quarantined at home will be at higher risk for suicidal ideations. Thankfully there are some options available that can offer some assistance to those who are feeling lonely and the people who support them.

How do we address loneliness and suicide?

Finding ways to build connections and friendships while under quarantine is quite difficult. There are no opportunities for joining meetup groups, hanging out with friends, or even socializing at work. A lot of the men’s support groups I’ve written about have canceled their meetings, and nearly half the country has been placed on stay-at-home orders.

While in-person socialization and medical appointments have been put on hold, telehealth and video conferencing have taken the forefront. Men can use some of these tools to stay connected to others, and for the online men’s groups listed below, it can provide an opportunity to build connections with other men.

For men struggling with suicidal thoughts

Please call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line (text TALK to 741741) as both remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Their website also offers some coping tips for those feeling emotional distress during the coronavirus quarantine. Those tips include setting a limit on media consumption, staying active, and connecting with loved ones and others who might be experiencing stress about the outbreak.

The National Suicide Prevention website also lists local crisis centers that folks can reach out to as they provide a “safety net for those at serious risk, especially those with nowhere else to turn.”

Schedule a virtual therapy appointment

While some therapists are still taking office visits, many have switched over to teletherapy sessions. For those with video chat capabilities, it’s simple. Your therapist will send you a link to visit during your scheduled appointment time, click it, and you’ll see your therapist on screen. My psychiatrist is currently operating via teletherapy, and it was that simple.

Before the quarantine, numerous online-centered therapy websites launched. Talkspace is an online therapy site that’s simple to use and gets you started right away. Simply sign up, and you’ll chat with a therapist who will eventually connect you with the right counselor for your needs. You can chat via text chat room daily, or schedule video calls. Plans start at $65 a week, but make sure your insurance company offers Talkspace before signing up.

Betterhelp is another option available that connects people with licensed therapists from around the country as long as you have access to a computer, phone, or tablet. The cost ranges from $40 to $70 a week (billed monthly) and offers a lot of the same communication options as Talkspace.

Lastly is MDLive, a virtual doctor’s office that has doctors and psychiatrists on staff. Therapists and counselors are unable to prescribe or fill medications, so if you are currently on antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, MDLive might be an option for you if your regular doctor is unavailable.

While teletherapy and video sessions are less effective than face to face therapy sessions, they provide a much-needed option for those in quarantine to get the mental health help they need.

Daily mental health hygiene

Joshua D. Rosenblat published an article entitled “Maintaining Mental Health Hygiene During a Pandemic” lists out eight tips for those who are struggling with mental illness while in quarantine.

Tip 1: Schedule MAPS

The first tip is to schedule one activity a day that falls into one of the four categories: mastery, altruism, pleasure, and silence (so four scheduled activities daily). For an activity to be considered mastery, one must feel a level of accomplishment when completing the task. Rosenblat tells readers, “Acknowledging the completion of the task can help bring a sense of purpose and accomplishment versus feeling that every day was wasted with nothing to show for it.”

An altruistic activity is one that is performed for someone else: calling someone you love or checking in on one of your neighbors. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just something that you do to help your community. Pleasure is just that: schedule an activity that fulfills something you love to do. Maybe it’s art, or even just binge-watching, Tiger King, again. As long as it makes you happy, you need to schedule it. 

Lastly is silence. That means taking a moment to reflect without the constant noise from the stereo or television. “Daily periods of silence may allow your brain and body to decrease your adrenaline levels, activating your parasympathetic nervous system allowing you to ‘rest and digest.'”

Tip 2: Healthy Diet

I’ll admit I am failing this one hard: I’ve been devouring cookies and Skittles like nobody’s business. So don’t be like me. Be like Dr. Rosenblat, who tells us that “processed foods high in carbohydrates and fat can directly worsen your mental health as your insulin levels rapidly fluctuate, directly affecting your brain function.” Find ways to mix in enough fruit and veggies into your meals, don’t just rely on the frozen meals in your freezer. A healthy diet helps develop a healthy brain.

Tip 3: Let’s get physical

Most gyms have shut their doors for the time being, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be exercising. I know for me, the longer I sit on the couch, the more likely I am to feel unaccomplished which leads to feelings of depression. So if it’s nice outside, go for a nice walk (NOT AT THE BEACH OR A CROWDED PARK), or ride your bike through the neighborhood.

If you’re feeling wild, be like this French guy who ran an entire marathon on his balcony.

Tip 4: Socialize

In my previous post about the coronavirus quarantine, I’ve made sure to include a variety of options for men to stay connected to their friend circles. Some involved playing online video games together, others called for joining online discussion boards. A few sections below this will also be some links to online men’s support groups that meet a couple of times per month that are also beneficial to fight off loneliness.

Tip 5: Turn off the news

Dr. Rosenblat recommends: “Staying informed is important during these constantly evolving times, but limiting pandemic-related media consumption to under an hour per day would allow for sufficient updates while not ‘overdosing’ on pandemic related news.” This one is really important, and a topic I discussed with my doctor recently. Her suggestion was only to read the news for 15 minutes in the morning, and 15 minutes at night (although if you’re struggling with anxiety, maybe don’t read the news before bed).

Also, there are so many wannabe epidemiologists out there on social media, try and find one news source that you trust and respect and follow them. Ignore the rest.

Tip 6: Avoid distorted thinking

Distorted thinking allows us to catastrophize our worst nightmares on an hourly basis. Sometimes reminding yourself daily that the coronavirus is a time-limited event, that it won’t last forever, can be reassuring to you and reduces catastrophizing.

Tip 7: Keep a schedule

During our coronavirus quarantine, it’s easy for days to blend, one after another. That’s why it is so important to keep your routine together as it provides a structure for your daily life. “Similarly, it is important to maintain a work schedule where you have some hours in the evening that you are relaxing, versus working from home intermittently throughout the day and evening since you are not ‘clocking in and out’ as you usually would.” This allows for those precious hours of relaxation at the end of the day.

Tip 8: Mental health crisis plan

If you find yourself feeling unsafe, remember that the hospital is still an available option. Mental health units are typically a different section than internal medical wards, so you will not be taking a bed from someone else at this time. Also, please reach out to friends, family, and loved ones as well as call The National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Visit Man Therapy

Another online resource that could be beneficial is a website entitled Man Therapy. Designed to look like Ron Swanson’s dream office, Man Therapy is a clean, concise website that encourages men to take their mental health seriously. 

The phone number at the top of the page links directly back to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and there is a link right on the front page that asks men 20 questions about their mental health. The questions are fashioned in a way that is non-threatening, but provides enough information that a suggestion on mental health treatments.

Scrolling down further throughout the site reveals a collection of witty, funny, yet informative videos about various subjects such as ways to handle anxiety, as well as testimonials from other men.

Designed by Grit Digital Health, this website is beautifully designed. It has been carefully constructed so that men will feel comfortable scrolling through while gaining insight into their mental health.

Join an online men’s support group

Despite our quarantine, there is still a collection of different virtual men’s support groups available that allow men to connect and talk about the issues bothering them most. While these groups wouldn’t be the place to discuss your mental health (medical professionals do not lead these groups), they do offer men the opportunity to fight back against loneliness in a safe, welcoming environment.

Tribe Men’s Group

Tribe Men’s Group is a not-for-profit men’s group that offers monthly meetings, annual retreats, and social activities for members. While their in-person events are put on hold for the moment, the group is now offering weekly online Tribe meetings. Because this is a community event, there is no charge for you to take part in the group video chat and allows for men from across the country to bond over common topics. Previous meetings have discussed adult male depression, emotional labor, and the fatherhood mission statement.

If you enjoy their content, they do have a subscription model that allows you to access more of their online videos, and sign up for their overnight retreats.

MensGroup

Another great virtual men’s support group option is MensGroup. Started in 2010, MensGroup was founded by men who just wanted an opportunity to talk about the deeper aspects of life with other men. Unlike other men’s support groups that heavily emphasize masculinity, MensGroup focuses on talking about life and learning from the wisdom of the other men in your support group.

Their mission is to “create community and conversations where guys feel comfortable sharing what’s happening in their lives.” After signing up ($39 a month for online group sessions with rising prices for one-to-one coaching and counseling), members will be assigned a men’s group for two hours twice a month.

If cost is a concern, you can access most of the online discussion groups for free, although if you’re a member, you will have access to private group discussions as well.

For people supporting men struggling with loneliness and suicide

Please know that there are resources available for you as well. The option call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line (text TALK to 741741) are available to those supporting loved ones during times of mental distress as well.

As always, it’s essential to reach out to those that you love as well right now who might be struggling. If they are suffering from depression, they are less likely to call or text on their own, so you will need to initiate the first contact.

Lastly, please take care of yourself. People struggling with loneliness and suicide need your help, and you cannot help them if you don’t take care of yourself first. Those tips for maintaining mental health hygiene above? Use them yourself. Just remember, if you cannot take care of yourself, you cannot take care of someone else.

Conclusion

The dangers of loneliness and suicide are only going to be heightened during our coronavirus quarantine, and that’s why it’s so important to have the tools available to help take care of ourselves and the people we love.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line (text TALK to 741741) as both remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out some of my other pieces here on Dudefluencer:

The Manly Man’s Guide to Coronavirus
Why You Should Join A Men’s Group
The Importance of Male Friendship

Garrett Michael Carlson
Garrett Carlson is the founder of Dudefluencer.com, an online men's magazine dedicated to publishing articles around positive masculinity and men's self-care. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Non-Fiction writing program, he loves to break traditional storytelling norms intermixing personal narrative, comedy, and research to talk about men's issues. Garrett currently lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, two cats, and Icelandic Sheepdog, Orla.

5 COMMENTS

  1. This has been extremely informative and insightful. Thank you for sharing these helpful tips and research!

    • Thank you for giving it a look. I hope that it can provide some help for folks struggling right now.

    • Agreed. I hope that everyone continues to take care of each other right now as things continue to be stressful.

  2. Topics like this I find hard to comment on as they hit close to home and I do take the issue of male issues very seriously. Society will wake eventually to the issues that man face, the question is what will that look like and how will it come about.

Comments are closed.

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