Bedbugs are the new 21st century urban touchstone for anxiety: what could be scarier than The Thing Under the Bed That Actually Eats You? Forget rats, forget roaches. They really prefer to keep to themselves. You only wish you had mice. Spiders? Haha! Amateur.
Bedbug infestation in a home, apartment, or even car is the fastest way to plummet to the ranks of the Unclean. Bedbug populations nationwide are on a rapid rise. They are seemingly indestructible, and one can pick them up in numerous innocent ways, from sitting in a movie theater to having dinner at a friend’s place.
Can a combination of maddening itching, unsightly welts, OCD-stoking cleaning protocols, social ostracism, often huge financial loss, and frustration at lack of concern from landlords and government officials and insurance companies actually lead someone to take her own life?
So far, there are no officially confirmed US reports of suicide due to bed bug infestation, but some believe it’s only a matter of time. Online forums for bed bug sufferers are full of proclamations of feeling “close to the edge” or “near suicide.” In August 2009, New York Magazine explored the perils of real estate in the age of bedbugs and made a “prediction for next August: the first bedbug-caused suicide.” Luckily August 2010 has come and gone, but the bedbug problem is still accelerating.
In this sad post on a popular forum, an apartment dweller wonders if a neighbor’s suicide was more than coincidental to the rampant bedbug problem in their building.
But worse, that they mentioned that Apt. 702 was “showing signs of activity again”. Apt 702??!! That apartment is currently vacant, as the tenant committed suicide on June 30th. One morning, at around 6:00 a.m., she threw herself off the balcony. It was horrible. I remember at the time thinking that it was strange that it occurred early in the morning, and that perhaps she just couldn’t face one more day. I felt so terrible for her.
So I asked the PCO “How long have you been treating the apartment?”
And they replied “Four months”.
Which means the woman battled bedbugs for 2 months and then killed herself.
The motive for the neighbor’s suicide is not directly known, but under few circumstances could one imagine that bedbugs are helpful to mental health. Was it the last straw or just an unrelated stress? Other commenters report feeling pushed to the edge and seeking therapy as a means to cope with the anxiety and depression cause by a seemingly unwinnable battle.
Typical suicide warning sign checklists include conditions such as loss of health or home and emotional changes like feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. Feelings of shame are often mentioned, as well as alteration of social habits and sleeping patterns. Victims of bedbugs will recognize all of these situations as direct or indirect results of their infestation. This is not to say that all victims will go as far as suicidal thinking, but anyone who is already prone to depression and anxiety may experience the negative results on a more severe and serious level.
One thing is certain: tiny bedbugs can be a real threat to psychological health, and they do not discriminate. In the coming weeks, we’ll keep on eye on bedbugs in the news and ways you can protect yourself or free yourself from the bedbug trap. Have you felt driven to thoughts of harming yourself (or others) due to your bedbug problem? Contact us to share your story.
ALERT: Please note we are unable to provide counseling. In the event of suicidal feelings in yourself or a friend, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline web site or contact your therapist or get to the nearest emergency room. Those are good things to do. Listening to Morrissey and drinking while obsessively Googling photos of bedbug bites: not so much.