15 suicides on Guam in the past three months of COVID year

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By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

(Editor’s Note: This was first published in the Sept. 1, 2020 edition of the Pacific Island Times)

The Covid-19 pandemic’s toll on mental health is apparently beginning to show itself through an increased suicide rate on Guam during the first eight months of the coronavirus year. Numbers indicate that the mental sufferings caused by Covid-19 can be more fatal than the virus itself.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has recorded 26 suicides from January to August, or an average of 3.25 a month. There were 15 suicides in the last three months alone– June (5), July (5), and August (5)– at the height of the Covid-19 outbreak that has sent people behind locked doors with no jobs to return to when the economy reopens.

Covid-19 has infected more than 1,300 residents and killed 15 as of today.

Records from 2019 showed a total of 31 suicides.

In a recent report, the World Health Organization warns of a looming mental illness crisis around the world resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic has profound psychological and social effects. The psychological sequelae of the pandemic will probably persist for months and years to come,” according to a study published in the QJM International Journal of Medicine.

The study indicated that the coronavirus pandemic is associated with distress, anxiety, fear of contagion, depression, and insomnia in the general population and among healthcare professionals.

“Social isolation, anxiety, fear of contagion, uncertainty, chronic stress and economic difficulties may lead to the development or exacerbation of depressive, anxiety, substance use and other psychiatric disorders in vulnerable populations including individuals with pre-existing psychiatric disorders and people who reside in high Covid-19 prevalence areas.”

On Guam, the coronavirus contagion has kept the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center’s crisis hotline busy.

In an interview in June, Clarissa Maniebo, a crisis hotline worker, said a total of 609 phone calls to the hotline from March 16 to April 25, and most of the calls were related to the Covid-19 crisis, including joblessness and quarantine-triggered anxiety and depression.

Maniebo said the latest information for the recent months were not currently available.

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero, during her news conference last Friday, said she is also aware of the upcoming mental health crisis that this pandemic is creating. “It’s very sad that that’s happening. I have great appreciation for the professionals at the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center,” Leon Guerrero said.

She added: “They’ve told me that the hotline they’ve put together is very successful. They’ve been able to talk to people who’re very anxious, very scared. I ask families who are in touch with these people to help support them. If they can give any kind of help, please call our hotline. Call someone. Call your medical doctor. Call your significant other. Call people you trust to help you work through this. It’s only through our interpersonal relationships and communication that we can help people go through this very emotional, very high stress, very anxious situation.”

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