Due to the recent coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, the death toll is rising. We hear about many patients who are getting sick with COVID-19 and developing significant health consequences, and unfortunately in many cases not making it out of the hospital.
Another, maybe less reported way that this pandemic is causing death is through suicide.
There was a recent article about a nurse in Italy who found out she tested positive for the virus and was distraught to the point of committing suicide because she was not necessarily worried as much about the toll it would take on herself but because she was devastated knowing she may have spread it to a number of other people.
In Joliet, IL, a man was so distraught that he and his wife contracted the virus that it prompted a murder-suicide. These are not isolated events, unfortunately.
According to the World Health Organization1, approximately 800,000 people commit suicide every year. And, for every successful suicide, there are at least 20 who attempt it and are not successful. With this COVID-19 pandemic, these numbers are likely to rise.
In light of the recent events and news coverage, people’s anxiety levels are rising, and as a result, depression can set in or worsen. In some people, this can build to the point of suicidal thoughts. According to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline2, feeling anxious, confused, overwhelmed, or powerless is common during pandemics. We, as humans, like having certainty in our lives. When things feel uncertain and we feel unsafe, it is normal to feel stressed and anxious, per the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention3.
Sometimes it can be difficult to know if you’re stressed. The symptoms can be subtle. Many people are good at pushing through it and getting things done, but stress will take a toll. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration4, there are several possible signs of stress.
Signs of Stress:
- an increase or decrease in energy
- an increase in alcohol or drug use
- increased irritability
- trouble sleeping
- crying frequently
- worrying excessively
- wanting to be alone
- difficulty having fun
- GI upset
- loss of appetite or eating too much
- being easily startled
- feeling anxious or depressed
- feeling guilty or angry
- feeling overwhelmed
- poor memory
- poor concentration
You can have some of these signs or all of them. There is no one way that people will experience stress. The key is early recognition and employing different coping mechanisms.
There is no doubt that the current times are stressful with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. Normal life is stressful enough; this pandemic is simply fanning the flames of worldwide stress. Whether it is your own situation or simply the news reports, this pandemic is definitely causing stress and subsequent anxiety, depression, and potentially suicidal thoughts. However, once you recognize the signs, there are several things one can do to help mitigate these effects.
Ways to Cope2,3
- limit media consumption
- stay healthy and active – get plenty of rest and exercise, limit caffeine and alcohol
- connect with friends and family to discuss stressors, enjoy the connection
- get accurate information from reliable sources, such as CDC, your PCP, etc
- if you’re having some of these feelings, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or the National Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990
- focus on what is in your control: wash hands, take vitamins, exercise, etc
- do what helps you feel safe: social distancing, frequent hand washing, etc
- when the sun is out, go outside and take a walk in nature, while social distancing
- stay in the present, many people develop anxiety regarding the future
There is no simple universal way to treat stress. Find what works for you. But when in doubt, reach out to others.
If the above is not enough and suicidal thoughts start to protrude into your mind, that’s where ketamine can be helpful, in conjunction with your psychiatric professionals. Ketamine is an NMDA (N methyl D aspartate) antagonist, which then triggers glutamate release downstream.
The postsynaptic glutamate receptors then stimulate a signal transduction pathway that leads to new neuronal connections, which induces a rapid antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects.
Given the potential adverse effects, although minimal, ketamine infusions should be supervised by board-certified anesthesiologists. In a 2019 review article5, researchers reviewed 24 different articles and found ketamine can be useful for suicidality in the outpatient, inpatient, and emergent settings.
Another article from Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience6 in 2015 revealed that ketamine can quickly induce an antidepressant effect in depression, as well as rapidly reducing suicidal thoughts within 40 minutes while maintaining this reduction in suicidal thoughts for the duration of the study.
The evidence is there. If your depression and suicidal thoughts are refractory to traditional treatments, why waste time? Several articles report on ketamine’s efficacy and safety when monitored by anesthesia in conjunction with traditional psychiatric therapies.
If you find yourself developing these thoughts or signs, especially during these trying times, please get the help you need.
Hopefully, the suggestions within this post can help you cope with the stress caused by this COVID-19 pandemic, but if not, please reach out to your psychiatrist, your psychologist, your primary care physician, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, National Disaster Distress Helpline, a friend, a family member, a neighbor, etc. Please reach out to someone. You are not alone.
StrIVeMD Wellness & Ketamine is here to help as well. With refractory depression and suicidal thoughts, we will work in conjunction with your psychiatric team and can offer intravenous ketamine infusions monitored by a board-certified anesthesiologist. Please give us a call at 847-213-0990 if you have any questions or would like to set up a consultation or appointment.
The on-going reports about the COVID-19 pandemic are concerning, but we can and will get through this. We must monitor ourselves and our family and friends for early signs and symptoms so that we emerge from this pandemic mentally and physically healthy.