The numerous unexpected challenges, uncertainty and tension brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest and wildfires have been difficult for many to handle, causing monumental shifts in people’s lives while limiting access to healthy coping mechanisms.
For example, it is more difficult for people to connect with their social networks, unwind at the spa or gym or even take a leisurely walk around the block.
For people who struggle with mental health issues, these are especially trying times. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has acknowledged that the pandemic may worsen existing mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. Suicide hotlines in Los Angeles County are reporting several thousand more calls than in previous months.
To help address these concerns, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital is hosting a virtual version of its fifth annual Suicide Awareness and Prevention Conference. Held in conjunction with the Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day, the event brings together a multidisciplinary team of panelists — including psychiatrists, neurologists, mental health advocates and professionals, policymakers and community leaders — to discuss the underlying causes of and risk factors for depression and suicide, as well as identify ways to safely discuss such issues with loved ones and help those most at risk.
To accommodate social distancing measures, this year’s conference is being held in two virtual sessions. The first was held on Sept. 12 and the second will be held on Saturday, Sept. 26, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
The initial session opened with remarks from Dr. Clifford Feldman, clinical director of USC-VHH’s geropsychiatric program. Attendees then heard from state Sen. Anthony Portantino, who shared his personal experience with a family member’s suicide and his efforts to advocate for suicide-prevention policies like anti-bullying laws, insurance coverage parity for mental health and approved absences for students with mental health issues.
“We all need to have the courage to say, ‘I am feeling depressed today,’” said Portantino. “It starts with these little gestures to get this conversation out of the shadows.”
Attendees also learned the causes and prevalence of suicide and the effect of mental health and suicide on U.S. life expectancy before forming smaller groups for discussion and a virtual resource fair.
During the Sept. 26 session, attendees will learn about child and adolescent suicide prevention, how families cope in the aftermath of suicide and how to best reach subgroups that are predisposed to mental health issues and suicide, including older adults, underserved socioeconomic groups and veterans.
All are welcome to attend, and professionals can receive continuing education units. Registration for the virtual event is required. To register, visit bit.ly/RegisterDay2.