Importance of suicide prevention emphasized for editor
FRI. | 9-25-20 | FEATURES
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, suicide rates in the United States had rapidly been increasing since the beginning of the 21st Century, which can be attributed to many different factors that increase peoples risk of committing suicide. With feelings of isolation and loneliness exacerbated by the need to quarantine, people have missed out on interactions with their families, friends and loved ones. Without the ability to do the things people love and see the people they love, the risks of depression and mental illness have been amplified. My own family has been effected by suicide in a very personal way. When my mother, Heather Seymour, attended her medical school orientation at Medical College of Virginia, which is now VCU School of Medicine, in 1995, the first person she met was a woman named Lorna Breen.
She had a pixie haircut and a huge smile,”
Images edited by Lilly Seymore
Seymour said. “She was super outgoing and super friendly and had been a million places and done a million things.”
Because Breen had lived in Richmond, she knew her way around the school. Right after meeting Seymour, she immediately offered to show her around town and invited her to the coffee shop where she worked to meet before their very first class. When she got to the coffee shop Breen asked what she could make Seymour. Seymour had never liked coffee so Breen said she would just surprise her with one free of charge.
“She made me a hazelnut latte in this huge cup, and it was the first cup of coffee I had ever had,” Seymour said. “From then on I was completely addicted to coffee.”
They were close friends all through medical school and Breen was constantly traveling to places such as Spain and Colorado to visit the many of the friends she had all over the world. She was an extremely adventurous, bubbly and bright person. Seymour was always extremely impressed by her maturity and poise. She had big plans for her life, and until the coronavirus, she had never shown any signs that she was suffering from mental health problems.
“She would always have wine and cheese at her house which I thought was really sophisticated and I wasn’t,” Seymour said. “I was just a baby when I was in medical school because I was only 21 years old.”
Breen’s dream was always to live in New York City and be an ER doctor. She eventually accomplished these dreams and worked her way up to being the director of the Emergency Room at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital. Over the years the two friends slowly fell out of contact because Breen was always so busy, and they were living in different parts of the country.
“When she was living in New York, she was always going out with friends and traveling places to ski and salsa dance,” Seymour said. “She was just overall a really busy and happy person.”
When the coronavirus pandemic began, she was in charge of coming up with the policies on how to treat patients in the ER, how to test patients and how to keep herself and her staff safe. She had one of the most stressful jobs in the city in addition to being quarantined in one of the first hot zones in the country. The stress of her very difficult job along with the isolation from her friends and family greatly impacted her mental health.
“She got COVID in early March and was out for eight or 10 days,” Seymour said. “She came back to work while she was still sick and was working 16 hour days trying to manage patients in the emergency room and trying to set policy for the hospital.”
Through this stressful time of having to treat patients and working to protect her fellow doctors, she abandoned caring for her own physical and mental health. She developed acute depression and could no longer care for herself, so she returned home to Virginia where she was hospitalized for a week. When she finally was released from the hospital, the pandemic was only getting worse and there was no end in sight.
“One day I came home from work and was sitting on the couch, and I read a headline on twitter saying ‘Top ER Doc dead by suicide’,” Seymour said.
I remember sitting in at my desk on a Zoom call near the end of April and hearing a bone-chilling scream come from downstairs. My brother and I both immediately ran out of our rooms to see my mom sitting on the couch bawling crying. Up until this point, I had never known anyone to have any experience with mental illness or suicide. Hearing my mom tell Lorna’s story made it feel so much more real.
“She was a great person and a great friend,” Seymour said. “She should be remembered for the light she brought to people’s lives.”
Throughout the internet and social media, often when you hear about suicide prevention people discuss how it’s important to check in on family and friends and look for warning signs. Although it is extremely important to reach out to your loved ones, using these types of language can cause families that are victims of suicide to feel as though it is their fault and that they could’ve done more when that is not usually the case. According to an article by Tim Holmes, the president of behavioral health at MultiCare, 46% of people who commit suicide have not been previously diagnosed with mental illness. In this article Holmes discusses how to combat the rising suicide rates around the country.
“Even if it’s not in the headlines every day, the growing suicide rate here and around the world remains a silent crisis, in part because it’s a topic no one wants to talk about,” Holmes said.
When discussing suicide, it is necessary to acknowledge the stigma surrounding it. Destigmatizing the topic and opening up the conversation about mental health and depression has the capability to save many lives. By allowing people to openly talk about how they feel without fear of judgment could allow people to get the help they need earlier rather than later.
“Too often we skirt the subject out of a fear that we will embarrass someone, or worse, give them an idea they hadn’t considered,” Holmes said. “In fact, most research indicates that talking about suicide with someone at risk actually reduces their risk.”
It is imperative that among family and friends we open up the discussion about mental illness and suicide in order to make people feel like they have a safe opportunity to speak up about the challenges they may be facing without being judged. With the coronavirus causing people to quarantine and stay at home, new methods of therapy and getting help have been created. These methods include telehealth and a subset of telehealth, telepsychiatry. Telepsychiatry is a way for people to become connected with a therapist or a doctor from the safety of their homes. This allows people to reach out and talk to a therapist in a way that they may not have been able to before. It is important to remember that there are resources available to help people if they are struggling with depression or are having suicidal thoughts. As a community opening up the opportunity for people to discuss their struggles and working to destigmatize the topic has the opportunity to help people find the resources and the help that they need and deserve.