The UK ‘lockdown’ as it’s being called has been in place now since 23rd March. Now on the 23rd April, as Suicide Prevention Advisers working on HOPELINEUK, we can reflect on how much has changed in that time in terms of what people tell us has been impacting their thoughts of suicide.
HOPELINEUK remains open as usual, and it’s a much needed service in these uncertain times. The helpline across all contact channels phone, text and e-mail remain busy. And every day we are hearing more and more about how COVID-19 has been impacting people’s lives. Approximately, 90% of our contacts are currently mentioning COVID-19 in some way. This highlights the significant influence this pandemic is having on individuals across the UK.
In the initial weeks of the pandemic, we heard from many callers worried about their health. Those who struggle with health anxieties found these initial few weeks particularly hard; fearful they would contract COVID-19. We also heard from many people with underlying physical health conditions who were fearful not only of COVID-19 but also of the isolation and loneliness they may face having to isolate from friends and family to ensure they were out of harm’s way.
Many people also called, fearful of loss of income and potential loss of job. The government furlough scheme has helped these concerns for some people but with so much talk of unprecedented global recession due to the pandemic, callers are understandably worried about how their livelihoods are going to be affected.
Loss of income is also worrying people in terms of accommodation. We’ve heard from many people worried about losing their homes. Some have found themselves homeless as friends or family can no longer afford to put people up. We’ve even heard from key workers evicted due to landlords being fearful they will bring COVID-19 to the property.
Callers have contacted us to share their sense of loss over cancelled holidays, significant birthday milestone parties or weddings. The majority of those that contact understand why these events needed to be cancelled but this does not take away the huge loss associated with cancellations and many people have lost significant amounts of money, not knowing if they will be compensated.
Many people call us and say how lonely it is being separated from a partner, family or friends. And that this loneliness has a significant impact on feelings of suicide. Those that don’t get on with family or may even experience abuse from family or a partner now find themselves trapped, frightened and vulnerable.
Health care is changed beyond imagination for patients needing mental health or physical health support. GP appointments are often phone only, blood tests or screening checks are being cancelled. Mental health meetings, assessments or counselling sessions are also either being lost or arranged via phone. In some cases, callers have had to wait over a year for counselling to start, only for the pandemic to leave their help being delayed further or changed to a less comfortable format than sitting with someone face to face.
We’ve also heard from students at school or university who may be away from their family home finishing stressful dissertations and having to work remotely.
Young school students have told us about missing out on university concerns, exams being cancelled or a feeling of unfairness that grades are not based using parameters they expected when they started.
Then there’s those callers who tell us of losing a loved one who’s died due to COVID-19, who they will never see again. And all the usual ritual of family comfort, support and funeral ceremony is not available due to social distancing measures.
What’s compounding all of these very different situations is a caller’s lack of opportunity to try and alleviate their emotions. Bars are closed, gyms are closed, restaurants, shops, time spent out time in nature is limited. The usual advice offered by society to manage such difficult circumstances remain out of reach for many people and there is still not an end in sight to these restrictions. People are getting restless and stir crazy.
There is no silver lining for the times we’re living in right now. I don’t imagine many of us ever imagined our freedoms would ever be so restricted or that the whole world would suddenly seem so uncertain with questions we have going unanswered. Things are incredibly tough and for many of us, things may get harder before they get better.
But what remains astonishing is the capacity of human beings to be caring of each other and to see the big picture. As mentioned, so many callers talk of their enormous personal losses and struggles, but can still reflect and appreciate that despite their huge challenges – they’re grateful for many things too. This could be for the hard work of frontline health workers, key workers across all sectors, friends and family or even the weather (which has been jaw–dropping since lockdown).
Despite how difficult things are, the capacity of those that call HOPELINEUK to work so hard on keeping safe from suicide is awe inspiring. The inventiveness too of callers to look at all sorts of creative ways to distract from their thoughts of suicide in absence of what normally helps is really hopeful.
One common theme that seems to have made a difference to all of our callers is connection to others. This could be friends, family, health workers or helplines. You don’t always need to be in the physical presence of another human to feel their warmth and to feel connection.
Perhaps what this lockdown is teaching us all is how uncertain life can be. And no one can predict when circumstances like we’re all living in right now can occur. However, it may also be teaching us that, during these uncertain times, society can adapt, society can come together and that society will maybe look at life in a different way to how they have prior to this pandemic.
For now, perhaps it’s about getting through day by day. This in itself may seem unrelentingly difficult for many; especially for those who are living with thoughts of suicide during this time. So if you’re feeling suicidal during these times or you’re worried about someone that is- know that HOPELINEUK is open for you. Every day of the year.
You can reach HOPELINEUK by:
Phone: 0800 068 4141
Text: 07860 039967