Consumer Perspectives: Preventing Suicide During the Pandemic
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Behavioral Health News
This article is part of a quarterly series giving voice to the perspectives of individuals with lived experiences as they share their opinions on a particular topic. The authors of this column facilitated a focus group of their peers to inform this writing. The authors are served by Services for the UnderServed (S:US), a New York City-based nonprofit that is committed to giving every New Yorker the tools that they can use to lead a life of purpose.
I am a 50-year-old African-American man who has been living in S:US supported housing since November 2015. I have had a lot of difficulty in the last few months struggling with the pandemic and family issues, but knowing that I have a place to call my own and I am no longer in prison keeps me hopeful. I am so grateful to S:US for providing me with the services and care that were not available to me when I lived in a shelter.
I’ve come to learn that S:US supports thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers, serving people with disabilities, people in poverty, veterans, people struggling with addiction and mental illness, and people facing homelessness. S:US supported housing, like the building I live in, has dedicated staff and support services that help residents overcome challenges. Supported housing offers an opportunity to New Yorkers like me, who need a little extra help, to turn our lives around.
I have had a lot to deal with since the pandemic started. Three of my family members died from COVID-19, my daughter had a miscarriage, and I do not have the best relationship with my kids. It all felt like too much to bear and I began to think there was no reason for me to continue to live. I felt alone and didn’t know what to do to make things better. One day I decided it may be better if I wasn’t here anymore and I frequently began to think about suicide. I felt sad, scared, angry, and hopeless.
I know that a lot of people have been depressed and thinking about suicide because of the pandemic. A recent survey by the CDC found that 40% of those surveyed reported an increase in mental health and addiction related challenges, and 1 in 4 young adults reported having contemplated suicide. The survey also found that the toll is falling heaviest on young adults, caregivers, essential workers, and people of color.
Fortunately, I had a lot of people who reached out to me to help. S:US staff have been trained in safeTALK suicide prevention to help people like me who are having a hard time. They saw the warning signs and knew that talking with me in an open, direct, and honest way would help. They saw that I was overwhelmed and I told them how I was feeling. My Program Director called me and other staff checked on me too. My Wellness Coach started to check on me twice a day and let me know they’re here to help. They listened to me and showed that they care.
My Wellness Coach also reminded me how much I care about my family and how they would feel if I took my life. That was really helpful—I needed to hear that. My niece calls me multiple times a week and when other family members heard that I wasn’t doing well, they started to call and check in on me too. The more I knew that people cared, the less isolated and alone I felt and the more the thought of taking my life faded.
I now take medication for depression, which is helpful. I meet monthly with my psychiatrist and have telehealth sessions with my therapist. I also try to do things to feel like my old self again. I started exercising (because I love to cook and eat), taking short walks, calling my girlfriend and visiting her on the weekends, watching my favorite TV shows, reading novels, and playing games on my phone. I stopped doing a lot of that stuff when the pandemic began and I started to lose family members to the virus. Taking naps, listening to music, and eating ice cream helps me too.
I’m doing better now but I still have some bad days. I know that I can reach out to people and I remind myself how far I have come. I also know that there are people I can call and talk to when I am not feeling well. The Program Director gave me additional phone numbers in case I don’t want to talk to anyone at my residence or my family: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and NYC Well (1-888-NYC-WELL or text “WELL” to 65173). I keep them on my refrigerator door so I don’t lose them.
All in all, I’m doing better and know that I have a lot of people in my corner. I know that healing, hope, and recovery are happening every day. Suicide can be prevented. I’m thankful that S:US has helped me put my life back together.