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COVID-19 pandemic is magnifying, multiplying suicide epidemic

There’s been no shortage of unintended consequences surrounding the numerous strategies employed to try and manage the onset and proliferation of COVID-19.

Focus on the Family president Jim Daly recently spoke on same-sex marriage on NPR's 'Weekend Edition Sunday.'
Focus on the Family president Jim Daly recently spoke on same-sex marriage on NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday." | (Photo: Twitter/Jim Daly)

From mandated lockdowns to forced remote learning, actions taken to “flatten the curve” and “defeat the virus” have cratered world economies, bankrupted small businesses, decimated family finances, isolated seniors and cancelled academic, arts and sports programs for students, to name just a few recent repercussions.

Yet, the impact of the pandemic on mental health has been even more devastatingly harmful and acute.

In fact, it was recently reported that more people in Japan died from suicide in October than from COVID-19 in all of 2020.

According to Japan’s National Police Agency, 2,087 people have died from the coronavirus in 2020 – yet 2,153 physically healthy people killed themselves just last month alone. Suicide among women was up over 80% since last October.

Of course, suicide and an overall mental health crisis are not just issues for “The Land of the Rising Sun.” Globally, 27% of women and 10% of men have reported an increase in mental health challenges since the arrival of last winter’s global pandemic. 

Our counselors at Focus on the Family, the organization I lead, have been inundated with calls detailing personal anxieties and desperation.

But I mention Japan because I have a special place in my heart for her people, primarily because I spent a formative time of my life living there. Back in my college days, I studied for a year at Waseda University in Tokyo and lived with a local family in the city.

Long before COVID, Japan has been a culture of high expectations for young people. I saw it every day. It starts in elementary school with thorough testing and competitive school placement. Students will often attend classes on Saturday. No time is wasted.

The social pressure for conformity along with behavioral expectations there are extremely high. Performance is tracked and measured. As a result, a student or employee who doesn’t make the mark is often demeaned or ostracized.

In such a culture, a person’s self-worth is often derived from their accomplishments – grades, income or social status. If one or more of those things takes a hit – so does a person’s self-esteem and self-worth.

Despite Japan’s culture, though, people the world over are struggling with the very same things these days.  In fact, suicide is the third leading cause of death among American teens.

COVID-19 has claimed far too many lives around the world – but it’s also magnifying the ongoing pandemic of suicide and mental health challenges that predate the virus.

What can we do about it?

It’s this crisis that propelled my team to produce a new resource written by Christian clinical experts that’s designed to help parents, youth workers, ministry leaders, and teachers understand how suicide is a profoundly spiritual issue. 

The Alive to Thrive program features videos of church workers, healthcare providers, and young people discussing their own struggles with suicidal thoughts and how the Bible provides clarity and comfort in a turbulent and confusing world.

My faith in Jesus Christ compels me to do my best in whatever endeavor I’m involved in – but His acceptance of me also inoculates me from the virus of self-loathing and despair should I fail, lose my job or have my access to friends cutoff as a result of a global pandemic.

Jesus came to earth to tell us we were loved and accepted – we don’t need a job or even our health in order to have such assurance.

I am praying for all those impacted by COVID-19 and believe that somehow, someway the Lord will find a way to redeem even these difficult days.

Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family and host of its National Radio Hall of Fame-honored daily broadcast, heard by more than 5.5 million listeners a week on more than 1,000 radio stations across the U.S. Follow Jim Daly on Twitter @DalyfocusFollow Jim Daly on FacebookFollow Jim Daly’s blog at DalyFocus

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