My new favorite drink is the Quarantini:
    2 oz. Malaise d'Plague
    1 oz. Ennui flu
    Dash of solitude
    Fill with loneliness and add crushed dreams

A few days ago, with my second breakfast drink in hand, I read Adriana Panayi's article about the potential increase in suicide rates during and after the Great Pandemic of 2020. “The psychosocial repercussions of this crisis could make the tragedy even worse.”

Panayi writes, “Of all the literary masterpieces describing humanity’s experience of disease pandemics, none describes suicide more vividly than Ovid's Metamorphoses, when in response to the psychosocial distress of the plague the citizens ‘hanged themselves, to kill the fears of death by death’s own hand.’” 

Suicide, after all, is about taking control of one's life.

At the start of this pandemic, the first completed suicide I heard about was of a truck driver who pulled off to the side of the road just north of our town and shot himself. And that was just the beginning. Last week, two cadets at the Air Force Academy completed suicide. Also, there was a father in India worried about infecting his family, a British college student worried about isolation, and several nurses felt the helplessness of watching people die. They each took their own lives and died not from the contagious disease but rather from contagious fear.  

Covid-19 and suicide have one thing in common:  panic contagion. This is a time of heightened anxiety, not from actually contracting the virus but more from the fear that we may unknowingly spread the disease to our partner, kids, parents and grandparents. Pandemic’s panic is contagious and spreads quickly through a community before the arrival of the virus. Suicidal contagion, as seen with teenagers after a friend has completed suicide, works in much the same way. 

For both, fear can be healthy. We hold our loved one tightly, shut ourselves inside and bar the door.  

After the Stock Market crash of ’29, stock brokers and bankers jumped in herds from rooftops, like a stampede of suicidal buffalo off a cliff. Or at least that’s how I always pictured it. Yet, not all public health and economic crises lead to suicide. During the bombing of London during World War Two, suicide rates actually dropped significantly.

Durkheim argues that suicide rates actually decrease during war due to social cohesion. But that’s Durkheim and I tend to question his grandiose and outdated sentiments of social science. Had he lived to see the end of World War One (he died exactly one year before), he would have been horrified by the massive number of suicides among veterans of the Great War.  Of every war.  

I strongly believe a time of crisis can bring people together. Perhaps the social integration we are beginning to experience and rely on during our collective isolation will reduce suicide rates. I certainly hope so.

A common enemy unites, and we are a war. Fear may be contagious but we have to remember we are not alone. So, make yourself a Quarantini and remember the words from The Plague as Camus wondered in the aftermath of so much suffering, whether humanity could find a peace of mind:

    “If there is one thing one can always yearn for, and sometimes attain, it is human love.”