Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center (GBHWC), the island’s only state agency for mental health and substance use, is seeking emergency funding in response to the growth in urgent mental health care caused by COVID-19. While Guam is only 30 miles long and 4-12 miles wide, Guam’s suicide mortality rate remains significantly higher than the U.S., with our age-adjusted rates being over twice that of the nation. Guam’s Bureau of Statistics & Plans (BSP) reported in 2018 that suicide was the sixth-leading cause of death among residents, with one occurring every eight days. Three days after the first confirmed positive COVID-19 case on island, GBHWC staffed the 24-hour Crisis Hotline that saw a dramatic increase of calls from an average of 25 per month to over 20 per day, with calls varying from general COVID-19 anxieties about health and employment, suicide ideations as a result of home quarantine with a violent spouse, to active suicide attempts stemming from hopelessness and despair. The proposed population of focus is individuals 25 years of age and older, who are at-risk for suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic, including victims of domestic violence.
As reported by NASMHPD, between 2014 – 2018, over 1,300 calls were made from Guam to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 1-800 number and 0% of them were able to receive help nearby because there are no crisis centers on island. In 2019, GBHWC serviced over 70 clients who disclosed being victims of domestic violence. These numbers are expected to drastically increase as the island remains under stay-at-home orders. Additionally, Guam’s Department of Labor has already received information from employers that more than 18,000 workers have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and they project about 20,000 more are going to file for unemployment benefits in the coming weeks. As these numbers continue to increase, the community persistently is faced with heightened stress, fear, and anxiety, while adjusting to the severity of acute shifts in lifestyles such as mandatory home isolation, travel quarantines, and job loss. Guam has already seen an increase in suicide attempts and suicidal crises with more and more people being transported to GBHWC from all three Emergency Departments (EDs).
Guam’s COVID-19 Emergency Response for Suicide Prevention funds will help expand GBHWC’s capacity to support the community through the expansion of telehealth services, a 24/7 crisis hotline, and the establishment of formal transition and discharge protocols with EDs promote a comprehensive approach to suicide including those affected by domestic violence. During the project period, GBHWC aims to serve 200 individuals on top of the average 3,300 consumers annually.