By Tara Ornstein, MPH
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the world’s oldest and most significant public health challenges. Every year, 10 million people contract TB worldwide and 1.6 million people died of TB in 2017. But TB is a curable disease. If people living with active TB infection obtain the care and support they need, they can beat the disease. For the first time in decades, we have promising new diagnostic tools and new medicines that may fight even drug-resistant strains of TB more effectively.
Nevertheless, patients receiving treatment for TB are more likely to suffer from depression and suicidal behavior. Some of the factors that may cause depression and suicidal behavior include the stigma associated with TB, isolation from family and friends, and side effects associated with the medicines used to treat some forms of TB. For example, health professionals know that cycloserine sometimes causes depression, psychosis and suicidal thoughts. Although the general public is familiar with the side effects associated with the treatment of cancer and other diseases, the experience of patients undergoing TB treatment, particularly for drug-resistant TB, is less well-known and this adds to the isolation TB patients often experience. Several TB survivors have written about their experiences and the toll that the treatment has had on their lives.
The good news is that we have tools and medicines that can cure TB. In addition to using new technology to fight TB more effectively, we can also save lives by identifying people at risk for suicidal behavior. This is why I am walking in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Overnight Walk in Boston on June 22, 2019. The Overnight Walk will raise money to implement programs and provide resources to people at risk of suicide. To help achieve this goal, please consider making a donation to the AFSP here: https://www.theovernight.org/participant/30637
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.