Donovan: From suicide to domestic violence, COVID-19 heightens risks

Donovan: From suicide to domestic violence, COVID-19 heightens risks


The social distancing we have been experiencing due to the coronavirus has drastically changed how we interact with each other. Families who used to spend a lot of time together must now settle for phone calls, social media or video connections. Even going to the grocery store seems like a very isolating experience.

Some people who were accustomed to frequent social interaction or going to social events are beginning to feel alone, depressed or discouraged. For people who have previously dealt with mental illness, depression or substance abuse, these feelings can be even more intense, which can lead to lapses in their recovery or thoughts of suicide. Suicide is listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. Suicide rates are highest among people ages 15-45 and 65 and over. In 2017, more the 550 children under the age of 14 committed suicide.

Social distancing can add to the risk of a vulnerable person’s suicide because they may not reach out for help, or people who care about them may not be aware they are struggling due to the lack of personal interaction. Experts recommend staying in touch with each other and watching out for others who may be in need, or just in need of compassion.

The more obvious signs of someone considering suicide include talking about wanting to die or end their lives, looking for a way to do so, buying a gun or poisonous substances, and feeling anxious, sleepless or depressed. Children and teens may express their emotions differently by crying excessively, worrying, developing unhealthy eating habits or showing signs of withdrawal from friends or others.

The recent social isolation has also caused an increase in domestic abuse. If you feel you are in an abusive situation, please reach out for help. If you feel you may be vulnerable to abusing someone else, or if you are a person in recovery, please reach out for support and find positive ways to channel your stress. Many hospitals and medical offices have charts with faces on them describing the level of pain or depression you may feel. Write down or express how you feel and try to lower that level. Experts recommend finding a distraction when you feel stressed or angry. Exercise, meditate, stop to take a few deep breaths, go for a walk, or watch a comedy on television.

Melissa Hunt of Penn State University recommends several tips for staying positive during social isolation:

Maintain connections with loved ones, even if only online by video platform or by phone. Scheduling these contacts in advance and on a regular basis makes this interaction more likely to happen, and to be helpful.

People already under the care of a therapist of other health care provider should take advantage of the video platforms these professionals are using to consult with their patients. Alcoholics Anonymous and other substance abuse support groups are holding video meetings to take the place of their group meetings.

Use social media actively, not passively. In other words, do not just scroll and read, but interact and be part of the conversation.

The message for all of us should be clear: We are not alone, even if we feel like we are, and there are people or resources we can reach out to for help. And we need to look out for each other.

If anyone would like a copy of the Cayuga County Community Directory, please just let me know.

Timothy Donovan, of Auburn, is a member of the Cayuga County Alcohol and Substance Abuse Subcommittee, and is a Cayuga County alcohol and substance abuse recovery advocate. He can be reached at


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