Suicide prevention experts reported a surge in calls when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. On occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day, psychiatrist Mark Xuereb said that while Malta saw a dip in suicide rates over recent months, crisis workers are preparing for the mass fatigue of Malta’s front-liners.
“We are now resolutely prepared for the next COVID-19 wave, whilst being very aware that our medical, law enforcement and ancillary services personnel are beginning to tire,” Xuereb, from the 24/7 suicide crisis hotline Crisis Resolution Malta, explained.
“We are also revving up to help the fearful and vulnerable in our society who are bracing themselves for a supposed third wave. They all need our help and it starts with a smile, a listening ear and a message of hope.”
Xuereb said CRM had started preparing for a mental health crisis due to COVID-19 from as early as November 2019, a few weeks after the virus first surfaced in Wuhan, by offering its free crisis line nationally.
“Despite the increase in crisis calls managed by our 10-year veteran crisis professionals, we are humbled by the fact that, like Taiwan, our suicide rate (about 7 per 100, 000 population) was controlled and even dipped slightly during the past months,” he said.
In Malta, between two and four people kill themselves every month. According to CRM, around 1,000 people resort to suicidal thinking and 1,200 self-harm annually.
In April, the Richmond Foundation warned about the long-term effects of the pandemic. In fact, a survey by the mental health group found that 1 in every 100 respondents said they thought about self-harm and suicide all the time amid the imposed isolation measures.
And while virus uncertainties loom, mental health professionals are concerned about the abrupt closure of the psychiatric out-patient unit, which has left thousands of patients in limbo.
Meanwhile, mental health services have opened up in Qormi and Fgura, but this is a far cry from the ambitious plan laid out in Malta’s mental health strategy.
The International Association for Suicide Prevention is asking people to light a candle near their window at 8pm to show their support for suicide prevention, to remember a lost loved ones and for the survivors of suicide.
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