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Why We Should Be Careful Before Celebrating the Suicide Rate Going Down

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When I was a teenager, being suicidal was not a reflection of how bad my life was, but how bad I thought my life was. This badness was created by comparing myself to others. I looked around and saw so many people live a life I was envious of and, in my own negative reflection, made myself miserable. However, during the summer after my freshman year in high school, I got the opportunity to work on a boat in Europe and was able to escape for a few months. Sadness would still hit me at times and nothing in my life had really changed, but I was stable. This stability came because I wasn’t comparing myself to others, I wasn’t wishing I was going to parties, and I wasn’t hating myself for not having some kind of romantic relationship. It seemed like things were improving and, because of this change in mindset, when I came back for sophomore year, I thought I would get a fresh start and everything would be different. It wasn’t. Everything was exactly the same as before, and it completely destroyed me. Within a month of starting school again, I made my suicide attempt and shouldn’t be alive to tell this story.

A recent article published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention stated that the suicide rate for 2020 was the first year to go down in decades. Experts aren’t sure why this phenomenon happened, especially since there have been heightened reports of mental health problems during the COVID pandemic. The explanation experts provide is that the declined suicide rate is a sign that protective mental health measures are getting better. Professionals are therefore cautiously optimistic that preventative systems are finally working. Hopefully, this is true. However, based on my experience, I’m nervous this won’t be the case when the world returns to “normal.”

This declined suicide rate may seem confusing because it’s obvious that people all over the world have experienced heightened levels of poverty, chaos, fear, restlessness, uncertainty and plenty of other stressors. However, some very important variables have been eliminated during COVID. The first is that no one is taking this pandemic personally. No one feels like these terrible living conditions are their own fault. Instead, there is a collective pain, and collective pain can make problems more tolerable. That’s why we love divulging our struggles to others in exchange for compassion and support.

Furthermore, our ability to compare ourselves to others, which is a guaranteed way to make ourselves miserable, is practically absent. People all over the world are complaining about how much their life is in ruins and are saying things that depression people already feel. Some of these things include that time doesn’t matter anymore, they never leave the house, they only wear pajamas, they don’t exercise, they’re tired of being alone, they’re tired of not going to parties, they feel like they’re going “crazy” and plenty of other things. All of these statements are symptoms of depression and, while the whole world is experiencing them, the negative comparison people destroy themselves with gets neutralized. This collective depression helps people to not feel alone or at fault for their pain. No one is a failure at life when everyone seems to be failing.

Finally, people’s fear of missing out is practically eliminated because everyone is in lockdown and collectively missing out. Therefore, people do not feel like there is something wrong with themselves for not being active in the world’s indulgences. This phenomenon is similar to how if you have work to do, even if it’s stressful, it remains tolerable when it’s raining outside, but as soon as the sun shines and you know people are out enjoying themselves, the same work becomes unbearable.

Pretty soon, life will return to normal, and humans will rejoice. People will post all over social media about how great life is. There will be pictures of people laughing, partying, dating and plenty of other wonderful activities. However, even though many things will have changed for people all over the world, for some people, things will remain exactly the same. Some people will still be at home, isolated, without jobs or the relationships they long for. In the shadow of everyone else’s ecstasy, along with the imagined expectations that life would be different after COVID, people will face a heartbreaking realization that nothing has actually changed and feel like nothing ever will.

Then, a wave of depression could hit, and it could hit hard. It will hit with such conviction that people will be overwhelmed with helplessness and hopelessness and conclude that suicide is the only way out. Who wouldn’t be destroyed if they were struggling with depression and then the whole world got invited to a party except for them?

If you have a history with mental health, depression or suicide ideation, and things appeared to have gotten better during COVID, that does not mean you should be less vigilant with your mental health practices. Otherwise, once this pandemic is over, if you have a habit of comparing yourself to others, getting upset about the fear of missing out, wishing for a relationship in order to feel complete, or a number of other vices, your mental health state could drastically worsen.

Therefore, it’s more important now than ever to teach yourself about mental health and how to take care of yourself by practicing mindfulness techniques. Breathing exercises are an excellent way to ground yourself instead of reacting with self-hate when painful mind attacks come. Be mindful about not comparing the best in others with the worst in yourself. Reduce your time in front of screens because many social media updates will appear upbeat and desirable in the honeymoon phase of the world’s recovery.

Most importantly, remember that you were stable during COVID. Therefore, after COVID, if you’re feeling depressed or suicidal, and nothing else has changed, it is likely a result of comparison and nothing to do with the actual quality of your own life. You can minimize this effect by managing your expectations about how your life should be once COVID is over. Remember that you’re still allowed to enjoy quiet weekends at home instead of making plans. You don’t have to engage in activates just because other people are. Let that need go. You can never miss out on loving yourself first. Keep practicing a good mental heal diet and mental health exercises. They will ensure that your mind is safe and sound when your thoughts start yelling all the things wrong with you. None of them are true. Finally, believe that you can get through it. I know this because that’s what I did and, since I am not special, you can too.

Getty image via melitas

Originally published: April 23, 2021
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