To say 2020 is overwhelming would be the understatement of the millennium. Between government volatility around the world, a global pandemic, and worldwide race riots, the macro-level issues facing humanity feel downright insurmountable.
To cope, many turn their eyes to governments for solutions, panicked and pleading for a return to normalcy. Others view government as the problem, pushing for a reduction in centralized planning and a return of the power to the people. And others still, locked in their homes and hopped up on fear and hysteria, sink deeper and deeper into depression and hopelessness.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prior to 2020, every 40 seconds someone in the world took their own life. In the US, it’s one person every 11 minutes. According to the CDC, intentional self-harm ranked in the top ten mortality causes in 2018 (most recent data available), with 48,344 Americans successfully taking their own lives, out of 1.4 million American attempts. And the experts have been predicting that, in 2020, suicides will rise (though scientists warn that we won’t know the impact of Covid-19 on suicide rates for some time).
Many with mental health issues are coping better than expected during the pandemic, as they have honed effective tactics for fighting the accompanying, overwhelming darkness and other impacts. Still, others in 2020 are experiencing depression and other mental health illnesses for the first time. And the ongoing lock downs and fear mongering are inhibiting people from seeking healthcare services in general, including mental health help and support.
In the past 15 years, I have lost two brothers-in-law to suicide. My husband, who has PTSD and other mental health issues compounded by these and other losses (including losing his sister to a brain tumor in the 1980s and his father to liver failure in 2018), is proactively protecting his mental health: he turns off the fear-porn of the mainstream media, exercises daily and eats well, and intentionally spends time outdoors in the Colorado sunshine, regularly engaging in his favorite activities.
This helps, but we both fear what the fall and colder weather will bring. While Vitamin D substitutes can help with winter serotonin fluctuations, and have had some success in mitigating depression symptoms, they are no true replacement for the powers of the sun and personal connection. And, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 10 million Americans experience increased winter depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), every year. What will the impact of 2020’s volatility have on these numbers?
We are already behind the curve in combating this issue, as local mental health capabilities have been severely under-funded for decades (though the federal funding for R&D is in the billions). With loneliness, social isolation, and economic hardship topping the list of suicide causation, combating the ongoing mental health crisis will be harder than ever in 2020 and successive years.
Perhaps, lowering the temperature on political discourse — and reopening and reinvesting in our communities — is more than a political talking point:
It’s a matter of life and death.
If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1–800–273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741).