Suicide in the time of Covid-19

THEsoaring suicide, especially since the quarantine period, it has been so exponential that we cannot avoid talking about it. Let's try to look at the subject of suicide from different angles, considering what can be done to prevent it and the extent beyond which one has no power to do so.

Some data.
The Suicide Observatory1 publishes chilling data relating to the Italian territory. As of January 2020 there are already 42 i suicide registered, of which 25 relating to the weeks of lockdown da Covid-19. This increase is more worrying if we compare the data from 2020 with those collected a year ago, which between March and April 2019 had just 14 victims.

No less important are the numbers of the attempted suicides, 36 since January 2020, including 21 in the weeks of forced quarantine. 
Researchers from the American Academy of Family Physicians expect 75.000 casualties related to the coronavirus crisis for the next decade in the U.S. alone. 
It is an estimate that is not too surprising considering that previous studies have associated pandemics with an increase in cases of depression, anxiety, insomnia and suicidal acts. 

Suicide is a concept that is difficult to approach. The idea of ​​renunciation of life is often considered unworthy, offensive towards life itself. If we tried to think of suicide as the outcome of a malaise, of a strong psychic distress and we considered it as a symptominstead of blame one might even feel a veiled compassion. Suicide is a symptom and is a multifactorial event, which blooms if and only if planted on fertile soil. A cause is not enough, but the alignment of many elements is necessary to make it happen.

Despite some associations, there is no direct correlation of the causal relationship between the presence of mental illness and suicidal gesture. In the singularity of the situation we are forced to live the conditions of isolation from affects, economic hardship, the compromise of the working position, the being locked in the house with abusive and mistreating partners and other difficult situations can unmask suffering that otherwise would have remained latent.

A dialogue between prevention and unpredictability

My reflection focuses on two terms that can only be considered together: prevention e unpredictability.
Prevention can be talked about on several levels: 

  • La primary prevention it is of an informative and informative nature and in this case it involves all the experts who have ventured to give guidelines to prevent or reduce suicidal phenomena. WHO itself has drawn up a detailed action plan to safeguard mental health2

  • La secondary prevention and in part tertiary, they range from the recognition of psychic distress to the support or taking charge of those who suffer from it. In this regard, many mental health professionals have committed and continue to undertake to promote free initiatives to ensure assistance and psychological support in case of need.

With regard to unpredictability, it is a term that must be understood in its broadest meaning and therefore as fallibility, finiteness, impotence. 

The human mind is programmed to knowledge, he needs to know, is a primordial need that gives security. It is a common thought that of the type "Better an inauspicious diagnosis than not knowing." Knowing how to stay or be in doubt, while waiting, requires a skill that Bion (1970) defined as "negative ability"3.  
Opening up to the idea that in this world, as well as in each of us, there is an area that is not known, not controllable, not visible and on which we have no power is the main road towards sound loss processing, understood figuratively and otherwise. 
There are those who claim that we humans live life in a paradoxical way, that is, as if we should never die. Thus, when there are those who not only consider death, but choose it, they eliminate the paradox and bring thought back to the examination of reality. 

What are the possible psychological implications for those who remain

I find it dangerous not to consider the terms together prevention ed unpredictability, in almost all things, but especially in the face of suicide. Relying on prevention alone would mean saying that something that could be done was not done. In that case you can run the risk to feel guilty for not being present enough, attentive or helpful to the person who then decided to end it. It would be equally useless to think that in the face of this phenomenon we are completely disarmed, when we have weapons, which however do not always prove to be efficient. 

I end by considering the complexity as one of the most fascinating and at the same time disturbing characteristics of living and non-living systems. Accepting to be part of it is an excellent starting point to consciously experience the negativities of the world.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Melania Di Nardo


* Notes on the author: Melania Di Nardo is a Psychologist and Psychotherapist with a Psychoanalytic orientation. For years she has dealt with psycho-educational interventions with children of different age groups. Since 2015 she has been engaged in private clinical activity as a freelancer in the city of Pescara, targeting mainly teenagers and adults. Since 2018 she has been working as a psychologist consultant in the Psychological Listening Center (CASA) of Chieti Scalo, in which, in addition to individual or couple counseling courses, she leads information / training groups aimed at specific issues. Since 2019 she is an ordinary member of Psy +.


1Observatory "Suicides for economic reasons" of the Link Campus University, Rome.
3Negative ability (Negative Capability): it is a concept of psychoanalytic technique used by Bion to refer to the mental state that the psychoanalyst should reach. The analyst must wait without saying or doing anything. This is not an expectation full of expectations, nor simply passive; it is a receptive expectation at the different levels of communication, verbal and non-verbal, conscious and unconscious, of the patient and personal.



- Bion W. (1970), Attention and Interpretation, trad it. Armando, Rome, 1973.

prevention, COVID-19, pandemic, lockdown, suicide

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