Dr. Bart Andrews is the Chief Clinical Officer at Behavioral Health Response in Creve Coeur and Chair of the Missouri Suicide Prevention Network.
He spoke with KBIA producer Trevor Hook about the possible increased risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts during the coronavirus pandemic – and about what everyone can do to help.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org.
Dr. Bart Andrews: In terms of long-term suicide risk, that we know that, you know, following the economic collapse in 2007-2008, the suicide rate increased. The number of calls to my crisis line increased dramatically that were about unemployed, losing their houses.
I do think there's pressure to scale up or upwards with people, particularly with people being more isolated. So, here's a good example, like the number of child abuse reports is down in the state. Right? Does that mean the child abuse is down? Absolutely not.
Child abuse is probably up. Why is child abuse down… because schools are closed? Who do you think the primary reporters of child abuse and neglect are? Teachers and school staff, right? So, one of the things that we take for granted is that a lot of help is triggered by gatekeepers.
Gatekeepers are people who are out in the community, either in their professional role and advocacy role, or just in their general role as people – who are trained to recognize certain things or just are good at recognizing things. Or who reach out and say, "Hey, you look like you're not doing well. Can I help you?" Right? Or let's get you connected with this.”
There's less gatekeeper contact happening now. Particularly less formal gatekeeping. So, as we have less contact with social service agencies, with schools, people aren't going to the doctor as much, people aren't going to hospitals as much.
So, in that process, we definitely all need to have our eyes and ears open and be more aware of the people around us and the people in our lives. Be more aware of how people are sounding and doing on social media, because the typical safety net that might catch people just by running into them, we're not going to have as many of those contacts.
There are infinite number of combinations of variables that can lead someone down the path towards suicide. Right? You'll see a lot of media presentations that say, "Oh, it’s bullying causing suicide or depression causes suicide. This cause...". None of that is remotely true. All of it has a grain of truth to it. Right? All of it is connected.
Suicide... and one of the things that I find so fascinating -- people often ask me anything gets really morbid to talk about suicide all the time. And I say no, it's absolutely invigorating. What we learn about suicide tells us what are the most important things about life.
Family is important, work's important. Having meaning and purpose in your life, feeling like people care about you and are connected. Being able to be caring and connecting with other people. These are important things and they also prevent suicide.
As we look at this crisis that's impacting us, there are some good things happening around this. I see people pulling together, although sure there's been government orders, people have really collectively decided our health is important and they've self-sacrifice to protect their health and protect other people. This also prevents suicide; this kind of mindset prevent suicide.
So, what we learned about suicide is that in healthy communities where people are connected and caring and people feel like they have purpose and meaning and their environments are safer, they're a lot less likely to kill themselves.
So, let's take that message forward. Let's use this opportunity as we navigate this crisis to learn more about what we could do as a community to improve our health and well-being at large, not, not just because of this crisis.
This piece was reported and produced by Trevor Hook.