Will Social Distancing Cause More Suicides?
President Trump made what may be a very valid point in the news sound-bite I heard the other day when he said something to the effect of “there will be thousands of suicides” if the populace remains isolated for too long. Obviously, I hope he’s wrong. Suicide is close to my heart. My oldest son died by suicide when he was in high school. The suicide rate among combat veterans is shocking. On average, twenty veterans take their own lives every day. And that number increases dramatically when we include others suffering similar brain injuries and PTSD. Some 45,000 people die by suicide yearly in the United States. As Trump indicated, it is probable that social isolation will exacerbate the issue.
The other side of the current state of affairs, however, is the potential severity of COVID-19. It is deadly. It is more contagious than almost anything out there, and therefore much easier to catch. There is no treatment. There is no cure. There is no vaccine. The only prevention is the tried and true public health method of isolation, quarantine, social distancing. Nothing else can stop the spread of this virus at this time, but social isolation works.
So, the best solution is not to try to make everything go back to normal in a couple of weeks under the guise of the cure being worse than the disease. It is not. If populations do not continue to socially isolate, hitherto unheard of numbers of people will die. They will be people of all ages from infancy to the elderly. As with any pandemic, those with underlying health issues or compromised immune system are most at risk. Carriers who have no symptoms spread COVID-19. Those who defy reality with their COVID-19 parties, beach frolicking, and religious gatherings are not only foolish, they are selfish. They are causing the deaths of innocent people. And, those who advocate the sacrificing of others to “save the economy” are practicing the worst kind of idolatry. They are offering up the lives of human beings bearing the image of God as sacrificial offerings to Mammon.
We must stay in social isolation until it is safe not to, Easter or no Easter. It will most likely be necessary for months. But we must also be mindful of the psychological impact of isolation on those struggling with PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, and other mental and brain disorders. How are we as God’s people respond? A few ideas:
- Identify the vulnerable around us and reach out to them regularly via video-chat and telephone. Take the initiative. One church I know has divided the entire congregation up into groups of four or five with one member of each group responsible for calling and checking in on the others every few days.
- Evaluate the people we talk to for suicidal ideation. If they express a death wish, have a plan to kill themselves, and have the means to carry out that plan, they are highly lethal – get them to help immediately. Call the police. You can determine lethality by asking pointed questions. Have you thought about killing yourself? If you were to kill yourself, how would you do it? If the answers, for example, are yes, I’d shoot myself, and the person has access to a gun, they are extremely lethal. Get them help whether they want it or not.
- Eschew, hate, have nothing to do with those who propose sacrifices to Mammon couched in “we’ve got to prevent a depression and get this economy moving again.” Keep yourself from idols.
- Love your neighbors enough to not be physically near them, while simultaneously keeping in contact and responding as best you can within the confines of safety measures.