By Ed Kimble
Suicides in Pima County doubled in March over February and the Pima County Health Department reported Tuesday (April 14) that some of these deaths appear to have been triggered by the COVID-19 crisis.
In a health alert issued to community health providers, Mark Person, Program Manager of Pima County’s Community Health and Addiction section, states, “[W]e have been able to verify through record review that several of these deaths were influenced by isolation and the constant stream of negative media which exaggerates the sense of risk and fear associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Health Department confirmed 12 deaths as suicides in February, an average of three per week. In March, there were 22 suicides during the first 28 days, including one murder suicide for a total of 23 suicide-related deaths. That’s more than five suicides per week, with a high of nine the week of March 15-21, the week of Tucson Mayor Regina Romero’s emergency declaration halting dine-in restaurant service and closing bars, gyms, food courts, and other places people congregate.
The higher suicide rate seems to be continuing into April with seven self-inflicted deaths the week of March 29-April 4.
Person’s health alert letter encouraged more frequent check-ins for people with mental illness and co-occurring medical conditions such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes “to mitigate the sense of fear and danger. The constant emphasis on ‘death tolls’ and poorly understood data is exaggerating the risks, resulting in a constant state of duress. This type of exposure can be a tipping point for many who are already at risk of suicide and drug overdose.”
If you are having ideas about suicide or you think a loved one is, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately at 1-800-273-8255!
Below we provide info for additional local crisis lines and online mental health resources. This info is current as of April 15, 2020.
LOCAL HELP LINES
Crisis Response Center. Dial 911 for an emergency mental health crisis, such as a psychotic break or suicide attempt in progress. Tell the 911 operator you are calling about a mental health crisis and ask for a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer to be provided. You can also walk in 24 hours a day at 2802 E. District St., south of Ajo Way and Country Club in Tucson.
Community-wide Crisis Line at 520-622-6000 or 866-495-6735: Call if you are having a mental health crisis that may not require police intervention or immediate medical attention. Live responders are currently available from 8am to 8pm and will be available around the clock starting July 1, 2020.
Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse Crisis Line 24/7: 1-888-428-0101
ARC Late-Life Domestic Violence Program Crisis Line: 520-339-2801 to report abuse of elders over age 55, including physical, sexual or emotional/psychological abuse or financial exploitation. Perpetrators can include current and former spouses, partners, adult children, extended family and professional caregivers. ARC purports to be the only agency in Southern Arizona providing domestic violence services specifically for elders. The non-emergency number is 520-623-3341.
SAAF Anti-Violence project Crisis line: 520-624-0348 or 1-800-553-9387.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 800-787-3224
Tucson Warmline (Hope Inc.): 520-770-9909 or 1-877-770-9912 8am to 10pm daily. Warmlines are oriented to persons with concerns about their recovery from or current substance use or behavioral addictions. Warmline operators are usually recovery peers. The Tucson Warmline also has a crisis number: 520-622-6000.
ONLINE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
NAMI Southern Arizona: The local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides many peer-to-peer programs for individuals and families dealing with mental health issues. Although they have closed their local office and halted support group meetings and classes “until it is safe to resume normal hours” they still offer meetings by appointment and their website is full of local and national mental health resources. They have a COVID-19 page focusing on self-care during the pandemic. Their main page also links to a comprehensive guide to COVID-19 resources in a downloadable 24-page PDF produced by the national NAMI office.
Founded in 1909, Mental Health America (MHA) is one of the oldest and largest community-based nonprofits supporting mental health in the United States. Although it doesn’t have offices in Arizona, MHA has developed an extensive round-up of mental health resources for coping with the COVID-19 crisis, including links to online substance abuse recovery meetings, the Trevor Project, the Trans Lifeline, tools for coping with anxiety, including online mental health screenings, and webinars to help seniors cope with the additional isolation and stress caused by stay-at-home orders.
SAGE, a national advocacy organization for LGBTQ+ elders, offers many videos, downloadable booklets, and online resources specifically designed to combat isolation in our population. Isolation and loneliness are strongly correlated with depression and negative health outcomes for seniors.
The National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) Foundation has produced this visually dynamic web page explaining the causes and health impacts of loneliness with links to research reports strategies for combatting loneliness and isolation during the COVID-19 crisis.