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Some people may be at greater risk for suicide during COVID-19 pandemic

Financial strain and other factors may cause greater suicide risk, especially among men, but there are ways to combat suicide. That is why I am sharing the story of my loss.

I was alarmed and saddened to recently read that East Tennessee over a period of just two weeks at the end of March experienced more people die by suicide than by the coronavirus itself.

Eight of the 12 people lived in Knox County, and while there may be limited knowledge as to the exact reasons for their tragic deaths, research suggests that during periods of extreme financial stress, suicide rates rise exponentially.

I should know.

Six months ago, my husband of 25 years left the house ostensibly to visit the food store, dry cleaner and make his final stop at the local Petco. He sent me a text with a simple, “I love you,” message, and as usual, I sent him a heart emoji back. That was at 12:30 p.m. One minute later my son called, clearly in a panic, and read me the text message he and his brother received a minute before mine. It simply said: “Goodbye. You two are the finest sons any father could ever have.”

With my son still on the line, I ran downstairs to check to see if one of the guns my husband owned was missing. It was. Then, lying on the bed were two manila envelopes with my name on them. I opened one up, and on the first of four pages, my husband wrote: “By the time you read this you will know what I have done.”

I screamed louder than I have ever before, called 9-1-1, and told the operator that I thought my husband was going to kill himself. I knew it was over. Then there was the knock on the door and the devastating reality that the man I loved put a 9-millimeter Glock in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

From that moment on, my life changed forever. However, there are many lessons I have learned and hope to share to prevent this from happening to anyone else during this pandemic and in the future.

A well-hidden secret

What I never knew was that he had suicidal ideation and was suffering from a hidden and untreated major depression. After all, he was a successful Wall Street executive, Pulitzer Prize nominee, and a proud veteran — that was until his firm collapsed during the financial crisis of 2008, and he lost all his retirement savings in the crash.

He hid his depression from all of us and suffered in silence until he finally couldn’t bear the pain any longer.

In his suicide note he apologized for making what he called an “appallingly rational” decision to end his life. He cited his financial failings—though they were misguided—and throughout the four pages wrote about his feelings of failure, worthlessness and believing he was too old to be considered for a job.

He died at 72 — way too young for a man who started his career as a journalist, graduated at the top of his class from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and had a 23-year successful career on Wall Street.

Men may be at higher risk for suicide

One of the world’s leading experts on suicide, especially among men, Dr. Thomas Joiner, believes that men are particularly at risk for suicide, especially today with the coronavirus.

“Men who have lost their jobs and are experiencing financial losses are more vulnerable to suicide. In addition, the latest data show that suicide rates have been increasing over the past two decades and show the highest age-adjusted suicide rate in the U.S. since 1941,” Joiner said. “As a result of economic stress, social isolation, decreased access to community and religious support, and barriers to mental health treatment, among others, can make people feel they are a burden to those they love, do not belong anymore—all of which may trigger a latent capability of suicide.”

“There are fears that the combination of cancelled public events, closed businesses, and shelter- in-place strategies will lead to a recession. Economic downturns are usually associated with higher suicide rates compared with periods of relative prosperity. Existing research suggests that sustained economic stress could be associated with higher U.S. suicide rates in the future,” he added.”

My husband exhibited many of those precursors to suicide and reflected some of the more blatant warning signs that experts such as Joiner and others have cited as part of their research. If only I had known them.

While we all know the warning signs of other medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke, we have little or no idea about suicide. But they do exist.

Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to read all Joiner’s books, begin grief counseling and get involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. While we all know the warning signs of other medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke, we have little or no idea about suicide. But they do exist.

Warning signs and risk factors

My husband, for example, seemed to have more mood swings; we just thought he was moody. He distanced himself from me; I thought he was a little down about not finding a job. He became overly grumpy, then overly nice; we assumed that was just him. And, he had two guns in the house.

There are risk factors for suicide as well, which none of us knew at the time. Some include having a family member who died by suicide, having guns in the home and substance abuse, among others.

I wanted to share my story for a few very important reasons. For everyone, please learn all the warning signs and risk factors of suicide. There are many websites— or and others that are there to help, not to mention wonderful books that can provide great insight and comfort to survivors.

For those who are depressed because of this financial and health crisis, and those that will surely come, know that there is always help; always a way out of your pain. What you will never know if you choose to take your life is the deep pain and devastation that you will leave behind, especially for those who love you.

My husband is now at peace and out of his despair. Unfortunately, we are left with a thousand questions—a million heartbreaks. I hope my words will resonate and empower you to look suicide right in the eye and not be afraid to fight back.

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