The Effects of the Shutdown on Suicide Rates for Martial Artists

By Elisabeth Clay

Martial Arts seems to be safe haven that attracts to those with mental health struggles because it can be an effective, healthy coping mechanism. With the government mandates, the shutdown has an effect on martial artists and stands the chance of having a devastating surge of suicides. This is something we need to address and talk about in our circles of “family”. Some may not be lucky (like I am) to have family to talk about these stressors with; they may be relying on the gym family members to help them cope. There are, according to a JAMA psychiatry article by Reger, Stanley and Joiner, “Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019–A Perfect Storm?”, several things that lead to an increase in suicide (and obviously the contrary can decrease if not experienced). Some of the key stressors that I picked out of their article were economic stress, social isolation, decreased access to community and religious support, barriers to mental health treatment, illness and medical problems, and outcomes of national anxiety. 

Economic Stress

Obviously with many not working, there is a very real and uncontrollable economic stress. People are not only out of work, but they had nothing to do with the shutdown and have no control over when the government allows things to open. Even when things fully open, it could take a significant amount of time for individuals and businesses to recover. That lack of control only adds to the anxiety and stress even above a normal economic stressor. Add to it the length of time this is going on, which gives people too much time to overthink things. 

Social Isolation

It is possible to be physically distant without being socially distant. But in many cases that is not what is happening. We need to focus on giving each other the social interaction that we need to be emotionally stable. Now, I understand that this is a very different amount for different individuals, but if we each do what we can, hopefully, we can reduce the isolation that some may be experiencing. There will come a point, though, when we will need that physical contact, in addition, to the social. I think that many of us that do martial arts (specifically jiu jitsu) have a drive to be in physical contact with others. We are the weirdos who are totally comfortable all twisted around each other, choking the crap out of each other. 

Decreased Access to Community and Religious Support

With this virus, communities have essentially been shut down. Only isolated big box stores have been able to stay open. Those places we congregate, for emotional and spiritual support, have been closed. Martial arts gyms are among those places. I know for me, even when injured to the point of not being able to physically train, going to the gym daily was my mental sanity. I am certain that I am not alone in this. I appreciate the professors who have gone out of their way to include me in zoom meetings and other methods of video conferencing to connect. 

Barriers to Mental Health Treatment

For those who also meet with counselors and possibly in therapy groups beyond our “choking therapy” (lol), those outlets have also been closed. Some mental health practitioners have transitioned their practices to tele-health, which is better than nothing, but for many it is just not the same as inperson meetings. 

Illness and Medical Problems

On top of our existing issues, many are very concerned about the virus (some are not at all concerned, but many are at least careful). This is a definite overall stressor that is above all the daytoday medical problem or stressor. 

Outcomes of National Anxiety

The situation we are now in has the country polarized but, regardless, there is anxiety no matter which viewpoint towards the quarantine, the virus, the economy, and a whole host of other facets to what is making up this predicament we have. But the issue for ALL our martial arts brothers and sisters is that the entire nation is anxious no matter what their individual perspective is. And as such, it is yet another tremendous stressor. 

Despite of these (and more) issues caused by the disaster we find ourselves in, we need to remember all of our family, both those of blood and those in our gyms. We do not want to lose those we could save. I know it is not possible to get through this life without tragedy and loss. We are born and we all will die, but we can at least do our individual part to connect with and let our brothers and sisters know that they are important and they ARE NOT ALONE in this struggle. I anxiously await being with you all out on those Zebra Mats. Become your lion or lioness…. 

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