This story is part two of a series on long COVID that highlights the experiences of Black survivors of this virus who now advocate for equitable medical care and help fellow long COVID-19 survivors. Click here to read part one.
“It’s funny how you can be afraid to die, but at the same time you want to kill yourself, and that’s kind of where I was in the summer of 2020,” says Teresa Akintonwa, 46, a COVID-19 survivor.
By the time summer hit, Akintonwa, who lives in Metro Atlanta, Georgia, had been dealing with the disorienting effects of COVID-19 on her body and mind for months. She says at a certain point, things felt like it was becoming too much — it became a constant struggle to breathe, and she thought she might die in her sleep.
But, when she was alone with her thoughts, all she could think of was how to end her life. Her suicidal thoughts got to the point where she knew how she would end her life — and that’s when she decided to tell someone.
“I had to go to my family and tell them, here are my weapons. I need you to take these and put them away for me,” Akintonwa says. “I thought about it quite often, almost obsessively. That was the first time in my life I’d ever thought about suicide or hurting myself like that.”
Suicidal ideations, any kind of thoughts, ideas, or plans of ending your life, became more common during the pandemic, according to a study by the National Library of Medicine. Researchers found suicidal ideations increased during COVID-19 because of isolation, mental exhaustion, and loneliness, among other reasons.
A FAIR Health 2021 study found that intentional self-harm claims for youth aged 13-18 increased 91% from March 2019 to March 2020 and increased 100% from April 2019 to April 2020.
During the first three months of quarantine in the U.S., suicidal ideation rates nearly doubled between April and June, according to a psychiatry research study by Elsevier, a research publishing company.