Suicide could never happen in a village with small-town charm, right?
The New York Times reports that 38 million unemployment claims have been filed in the last 10 weeks and 42 percent of recent layoffs will probably result in permanent job loss. The stress on those stuck at home without a job can have a major financial impact.
Along with worries about paying the bills, the stress we are feeling also may have relational, psychological and spiritual components. In fact, experts fear there will be a spike in suicides among those who have lost their jobs.
“Unemployment is a well-established risk factor for suicide,” wrote Glenn Sullivan PhD in the March 22 issue of Psychology Today. “In fact, 1 in 3 people who die by suicide are unemployed at the time of their deaths. For every one-point increase in the unemployment rate, the suicide rate tends to increase .78 points. One of the silent drivers of our current suicide crisis is the high percentage of working-age men not participating in the labor force.”
There is also a fear that there will be a spike in suicides among front-line health-care workers. According to a N.Y. Times article, dated May 5, 2020, “Before COVID-19, health-care workers were already vulnerable to depression and suicide. Mental health experts now fear even more will be prone to trauma-related disorders.”
And with three hospitals within walking distance of Forest Park, we have a lot of stressed-out doctors, nurses, EMTs and hospital cleaning staff living and working among us.
Carey Carlock, LCPC, is the chief executive officer of Riveredge Hospital here in Forest Park, a facility that “offers a comprehensive continuum of inpatient and outpatient care for children, adolescents and adults with behavioral health issues.”
She has had both personal and clinical experience with the ultimate example of what despair can lead to.
“As a therapist and a mental health advocate,” she said, “I am deeply committed to assisting people in their quest for treatment and recovery. As an individual personally impacted by suicide, I know how devastating this type of loss is on individuals, families and communities.”
She sent a letter to Wednesday Journal three years ago in which she expressed her grief at losing a patient to suicide and her resolve to work hard to prevent “one more cherished and beloved person who sees no other recourse” than hurting themselves.
“My heart breaks for her,” wrote Carlock, “and I wonder how did we not reach her? How did we not see her desperation? What if, how could, why …? What can we do that is actionable that is a balm, a solution, a strategy?”
The tone of her letter then shifts to determination. “We will open our eyes and hearts and doors and resources to help. To offer ourselves as part of the solution. A prayer in action.”
Carlock shared that one of the reasons she chose the profession she did was because she was affected by suicide earlier in her life, watching a close friend from high school and his family struggle with his mother’s clinical depression.
“As it was many years ago, we did not have the same access to care, language to use around mental illness and the same understanding how crushingly isolating stigma can be,” Carlock said. “My friend, even as close as we were, did not share what was truly going on at home. I am uncertain if he really even knew. I know he was scared and embarrassed and at loss for how to reach and help his mom.”
A few years later, her friend’s mother ended her life, and Carlock returned home from college to grieve with her friend and his family.
“I am certain at that time, I made the decision to dedicate my professional life to learning as much as I could about mental health and recovery and advocacy,” said Carlock.
Over the years, Carlock has been impacted by suicide “many times over,” and it doesn’t get easier. But Carlock wants people to know this: “It is not hopeless. Treatment is available, and treatment works.”
“Suicide prevention,” she said in an interview last week, “is all of our responsibility. We must ensure our ears and hearts and doors remain open to identify people’s isolation and suffering. It is all of our responsibility to reach out and communicate directly. To assess others. To speak up honestly, compassionately and directly when we have concerns about our loved ones.”
Part of our responsibility is to be aware of the suicide warning signs. Carlock uses a CDC list as a concise summary:
• Feeling like a burden
• Being isolated
• Increased anxiety
• Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Increased substance use
• Looking for a way to access lethal means
• Increased anger or rage
• Extreme mood swings
• Expressing hopelessness
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Talking or posting about wanting to die
• Making plans for suicide
The CDC urges everyone to respond in the following ways if they observe any of these warning signs in a friend, co-worker or loved one:
- Ask them if they are thinking about suicide.
- Keep them safe. Reduce access to lethal means for those at risk.
- Be there with them. Listen to what they need.
- Help them connect with ongoing support. You can start with the Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
- Follow up to see how they’re doing.
- Find out why this can save a life by visiting www.BeThe1To.com.
Mindful of the toll COVID-19 can take on health-care workers, Carlock said, “We initially saw our staff respond to coming to work as front-line workers with anxiety and serious concern and again even anger. Over time most individuals have learned to conduct our work safely and as a new normal. Over time the intense anxiety has been replaced with inspiration. Mission in motion as I like to say. We are in this together and we will get through it.”
To call Riveredge Hospital for information or help, dial 708-771-7000 and, of course, if it is an emergency dial 911.