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Parkland Health & Hospital System - Dallas County Hospital District

09/21/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 09/21/2020 09:46

Pandemic heightens depression, suicide risk, Parkland experts say

Posted: 9/21/2020

September is National Suicide Prevention Month

COVID-19 hasn't just attacked our physical well-being. It has also eroded our sense of safety, security and social connectedness. At best, we're anxious about when life may get back to normal or afraid of catching the virus. At worst, we're seriously depressed because we've lost our job, savings, health or - worst of all - a loved one. Now in month seven of the pandemic, which is also National Suicide Prevention Month, millions are facing illness, grief, financial and family stress, child care and education challenges, even struggles to put food on the table and a roof overhead.

Behavioral health experts at Parkland Health & Hospital System say the virus has increased stress levels of people of all ages, ethnicities and socio-economic status.
'The length of this crisis has depleted many of our emotional resources and the need for physical distancing has changed our ability to use social connections to cope adaptively,' said Kim Roaten, PhD, Director of Quality for Safety, Education and Implementation, Department of Psychiatry at Parkland and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center. 'Additionally, many of us are struggling with changes to our jobs, under-employment or unemployment and a transition to virtual schooling.'
According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of symptoms of anxiety and depression increased three-fold in the United States during April-June of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. By late June 2020, researchers found that 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use, 31% had symptoms of anxiety or depression and 11% had seriously considered suicide. For those ages 18 to 24, the number considering suicide was 1 in 4 - more than twice as high.

Adverse mental health symptoms are more widespread among Hispanic and African American communities, among essential workers and unpaid caregivers, the CDC report said.

'COVID-19 has impacted the emotional well-being of on many of our patients,' said Rebecca Corona, PhD, Lead Psychologist at Parkland who manages a team of behavioral health counselors providing services at Parkland's community-based health centers.

Through telehealth expansion, Parkland has increased access to outpatient mental health services during the pandemic, ensuring that patients receive necessary care.

'In some cases, COVID has unmasked underlying problems or exacerbated existing situations such as domestic conflict and abuse. Grief, depression and anxiety brought on by COVID-19 have affected patients of all ages, from children to seniors,' Dr. Corona said.

'Many elderly patients are feeling like prisoners in their own homes,' Dr. Corona said. 'It's not safe for them to go out, and their kids and grandkids can't visit safely, making them feel even more isolated. We talk about finding new ways to connect and cope. One of my patients is making masks for her grandchildren. Helping them stay safe is therapeutic for her.'

Dr. Corona said some patients have become so depressed that they are not taking care of themselves, have lost their appetite, aren't sleeping well and have withdrawn from others, all concerning signs of potential suicide risk.

In 2015, Parkland became the first health system in the nation to administer a universal suicide screening program to identify persons at risk and help save lives through early intervention. The program screens not only adults but also youth, ages 10 to 17, regardless of their reason for seeking care. Since initiating the program, more than 3 million suicide risk screenings have been completed with patients in Parkland's Emergency Department, Urgent Care Emergent Department, inpatient units and Community Oriented Primary Care (COPC) health centers.

Dr. Roaten said everyone should be aware of potential suicide warning signs:
• Feeling like a burden
• Being isolated
• Increased anxiety
• Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Increased substance or alcohol use
• Looking for a way to access lethal means such as a firearm
• 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

'If you are worried about someone, speak up,' Dr. Roaten advised. 'Let them know you're concerned. Reassure them that seeking help is a sign of strength. Let them know they're not alone, that you're there for them. Evidence shows that asking someone if they are thinking of harming themselves does not lead to increased risk of suicide. In fact, most people feel grateful that someone has expressed concern. There are many resources, from suicide crisis hotlines to mental health providers at Parkland and throughout the community who stand ready to help.'

Suicide crisis lines include:
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - Suicide prevention telephone hotline funded by the US government. Provides free, 24-hour assistance. 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
• Crisis Text Line - Free 24/7 support - Text 'HOME' to 741741
• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline - Free, confidential 24/7 helpline information service for substance abuse and mental health treatment referral. 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
• Suicide & Crisis Center of North Texas 24/7 crisis line. 214-828-1000

For more information about Parkland services, visit www.parklandhospital.com

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