Mental health experts bolster suicide prevention efforts during COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mental health experts are trying to strengthen suicide prevention efforts as many face anxiety and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Millions of Americans are struggling to cope with the fallout from coronavirus, whether it's losing loved ones, losing a job or staying at home more than they ever have, the Associated Press reported.

Mike Bushman was in high school when he considered taking his own life. Bushman survived that crisis, and now he works with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

With record unemployment and economic uncertainty, they're seeing a big increase in the number of calls to their suicide hotline.

"No one really knowns what to expect, so I think there's a lot of fear out there," said Courtney Collins, a regional director at the foundation.

A majority of Americans say they have felt at least one negative emotional reaction in the last seven days, according to a new poll conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for the Data Foundation.

At least a third of Americans reported feeling nervous, depressed, lonely or hopeless at least one day in the past week. But taken together, 61% of Americans say they have felt at least one of those emotions at one point throughout the week.

Some experts compare these times to the stock market collapse in 2008.

A study of that crisis found around 4,750 "excess suicide deaths," which were directly liked to the crisis. Experts coined the term "economic suicides," triggered by depression over job loss, home foreclosure and debt.

They included about four times more men than women.

"Men are often less likely to reach out for help," Bushman said.

Many also turn to substance abuse.

Therapists like Stephanie Smith said they have been seeing a big increase in patients.

"Prescription drug abuse, too much alcohol, overspending, overeating, not eating enough," Smith said.

Mental health experts emphasize that the most important message is that suicide is preventable, and that this crisis will pass.

For anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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