Preventing Suicide During Covid-19

Tuesday, April 7th 2020

Change, isolation and job loss are all realities of the Covid-19 pandemic. They’re also triggers for people with mental health struggles. Lisa Sullivan with the The Texas Suicide Prevention Collaborative talks with Decibel’s Judy Maggio about the importance of reaching out for help during this challenging time.

Judy Maggio: I want to talk about the impact of Covid-19 because sadness, worry and stress are all front and center right now. How has it impacted your efforts to help people who might have suicidal thoughts or be at risk for suicide?

Lisa Sullivan: We are in the early stages of this but we know from the disaster behavioral health model that there's kind of a cycle that mental health tends to go through. We are seeing elevated calls to the suicide crisis lines both across the state and nationally, where people are really reaching out for help. This is one of those triggering events that really tests your coping and resiliency skills. For populations that have other risk factors, this just magnifies them even more. We want to be sure we can do everything we can in our communities to work to keep them suicide safer, to keep all Texan suicide safer.

JM: What are ways people can connect? I know connection is important to finding that support they need right now.

LS: From a connectedness point of view, it's really reaching out, especially in our older and elderly populations that have isolation as a risk factor to start with. Anything you can do to reach out to that community is particularly helpful because their natural networks aren't available to them at the moment. So, phone calls, letter writing, little gift packages, connecting through social media are often ways that we can reach out and ask someone how they're feeling.

From there, it's knowing how to connect. So, knowing about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Disaster Distress Helpline, which also is a great resource right now, as we're in the middle of this. HHSC [Texas Health and Human Services] has just opened up a brand new hotline as well for tele mental health, which is very exciting. And then, of course, the National Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press one for veterans. So, these are all resources to connect someone who you may be concerned about to ensure that they have a caring contact and a qualified person that they can talk to.

JM: Some people aren't working as many hours as they typically would and they want to volunteer. Are there ways to volunteer to help in this mental health space?

LS: Absolutely. We are getting a number of calls for volunteers and one of the fastest way you can do this is to reach out to your local suicide prevention coalition. They are located on our website, under the about us tab, at There is a great group of people, likely in your community or very close to your community, that are working specifically on the challenges that have been identified in your region or city or community. So, it's a great way to get involved with people coming from any number of spaces. Our first responders, local social workers, our healthcare folks, our schools and our EMS teams. It's a great way to kind of integrate in and to pitch in to work at the local level.

JM: I talked about mental health struggles being magnified right now and I'm supposing that you all are seeing that in your work on a daily basis?

LS: We are. The CDC has a package called the technical package and its programs, policies and practices. If you look at what Covid intersects with in those seven elements that are so important to suicide prevention. It is checking all of those boxes. So, the need and the challenges that we're likely to have to figure out, especially over the next 60 to 120 days, are amplified greatly. So, we are seeing that impact already.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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