No rise in suicide rates in richer countries during first months of pandemic

Some countries recorded a drop in suicides, according to Lancet study

  A new study has found suicide numbers remained largely unchanged or showed a decline on previous years. Photograph: iStock

A new study has found suicide numbers remained largely unchanged or showed a decline on previous years. Photograph: iStock

 

There was no evidence of an increase in suicides in the first months of the coronavirus pandemic in higher-income countries, according to a study published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal.

Researchers including University College Cork professor Ella Arensman examined suicide rates in 21 “high-income and upper-middle-income countries” countries between April 1st and July 31st and compared them with previous years.

It found suicide numbers remained largely unchanged or showed a decline on previous years.

However, the authors warned governments must remain vigilant as the longer-term mental health and economic effects of the pandemic become clear.

Ireland was not one of the countries included in the study but its findings tally with the view of Kildare coroner Prof Denis Cusack who said a preliminary investigation of suspected deaths by suicide did not show “any significant increase” in the county.

Provisional trends

Although the numbers of suicides in Kildare last year were higher than previous years, the overall numbers remained small and “has not increased significantly,” Prof Cusack said.

“There is no indication from preliminary analysis that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in any significant increase of deaths due to suicide, but some preliminary provisional trends from Kildare need to be monitored and to be examined nationally,” he said.

The authors of the Lancet study put forward several hypotheses for why suicide rates did not increase during the pandemic, including the increase in the provision of mental health services in many countries to mitigate the impact of lockdown measures.

Financial measures to “buffer” the impact of job losses and business closures may have also played a role.

The pandemic may have also heightened other factors known to protect against suicide including increased community supports for vulnerable people, new ways of connecting with others online and “strengthened relationships through households spending more time together”.

Everyday stresses

A collective feeling of “being in it together”, as well as a reduction in everyday stresses for some people, may also have helped, they said.

They note that, while the study offers the best available evidence to date of Covid-19’s impact on suicide rates, “it only provides a snapshot of the first few months of the pandemic and effects on suicide might not necessarily occur immediately”.

“There is a need to ensure that efforts that might have kept suicide rates down until now are continued, and to remain vigilant as the longer-term mental health and economic consequences of the pandemic unfold.

“The effect of the pandemic on suicide might vary over time and be different for different groups in the population.”

The authors also noted the study did not examine low or lower-middle-income countries which might have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

They said there are some “concerning signs” the pandemic is adversely impacting suicide rates in such countries.

Support for anyone in distress can be obtained by contacting the Samaritans on 116 123 or Pieta House on 1800 247 247. People can also text the word Help to Pieta House on 51444.