Coronavirus and suicide: Understanding the psychological toll of global pandemic

A worker who loses the job feels stress and fear, even as he is already facing a pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn't any longer a health crisis alone. The impact of the global crisis is so much so that people across the world are experiencing emotional breakdowns. Some are even shattered to the extent that they take refuge in suicide.

It is clear that the primary impact is on those directly infected by the cornavirus and their families. The mental agony is increasing in countries like the US where the pandemic has reached community transmission. On the other side, containment measures themselves have brought with them misinformation, panic (buying) and disturbing conspiracy theories.

"The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection" have resulted in collective grief, and people aren't used to it, said David Kessler, one of the world's foremost experts on grief, in an interview to HBR.

Availability bias, as scientists call it, is a bias created when we give more importance to events we immediately recall. The media and the piling news on the virus "puts people in a hyper-vigilant state so that any information about it is self-perpetuating," said Dorothy Frizelle to Quartz a psychologist in UK. "People notice more, and hear more, and read more, and interpret that in a threatening way," she added.

Hysteria has given rise to suicides too. On Sunday, when news of the German finance minister's death spread, the first investigation concluded that it was likely a suicide linked to the despair caused by the coronavirus crisis. However that may be, worldwide, there have been many suicides that are linked to coronavirus.

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Don't let panic decide

The impact of novel coronavirus is not only more dangerous for those who have pre-existing medical conditions, but psychological impact of the outbreak also gives tough times for people with preexisting mental health conditions like anxiety or OCD, says Alison Holman, associate professor in the school of nursing at UC Irvine and a health psychology expert. Such people need patient support.

Experts say it is primary to not let 'panic' decide things and disturb rational thought processes. This poses much greater a threat than the virus itself.

Kessler talks about 'anticipatory grief', a grief about uncertain future centering on death, particularly in times of the pandemic. This uncertainty can be fought only by knowledge of the virus, we are certain about, then accepting it. However, he says that there are "gang of feelings" to be felt; "We feel it and it goes and then we go to the next feeling," he concludes that it is not absurd to feel grief, but one should keep going on, or else the bad feelings would overrun us.


Unemployment in the US crossed three million, which surpasses previous highs. The figure crossed the Recession numbers of 2009 and 1982. It was a sudden rise to 3,001,000 from 282,000 in a week's time. This sudden change has its effect on psychology too!

"This is going to be a global pandemic of unemployment," said David Blustein, a professor of counseling psychology at Boston College and the author of The Importance of Work in an Age of Uncertainty - The Eroding Work Experience in America. He called it a crisis within a crisis, reported BBC.

A worker who lost the job feels stress and fear, even as he is already facing a pandemic. Psychologists point that losing a job often equates to the grief of losing a loved one; feeling grief instead of rejecting and later accepting reality with hope would help, say experts.

Usually, workers –when they lose job –feels anger that points towards the employer, but in the situation of a pandemic, there might be a mixed feeling with fear that points towards the pandemic. In the case of the former, could go for a strike, the latter cannot.

Studies have shown that people who suffered financially, like job-loss following the Great Recession, were more vulnerable to mental health problems.

In India, thousands of migrant workers who were out of jobs were seen travelling on foot to their native villages as transport was stopped. Some did not have food for days during the travel, and more than 20 died. There was a kind of hope in them amid the pandemic, to walk hundreds of Kilometers, that they could have some sort of security in their villages, which otherwise could have resulted in mass protests.

Related topics : Coronavirus