Global suicide rates did not increase at the beginning of the pandemic, study finds thumbnail

Global suicide rates did not increase during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, despite evidence that depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts were all heightened.

The study of 21 countries, including the United States, examined suicide trends from April 1-July 31, 2020. In most places, including many areas of the U.S., suicide rates were flat or even declined.

While these findings are hopeful, lead study author Jane Pirkis, director of the Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and her co-authors warned, the “picture is neither complete nor final, but serves as the best available evidence on the pandemic’s effects on suicide so far.”

Their findings are consistent with preliminary data published last month that indicates that from 2019 to 2020, U.S. suicides declined by 5.6 percent, even as suicidal ideation increased.

Such numbers are encouraging, experts said. But they cautioned that they do not necessarily reflect mental health and how the pandemic has affected it.

“We shouldn’t take the numbers and say, ‘Oh, fewer people killed themselves in the early part of the pandemic. Things must have been good.”

“We shouldn’t take the numbers and say, ‘Oh, fewer people killed themselves in the early part of the pandemic. Things must have been good,” said Jonathan Singer, president of the American Association of Suicidology and an associate professor of social work at Loyola University Chicago. “Depressive symptoms, eating disorders, all those things have gone up. But it doesn’t mean that because you are suffering, you are going to kill yourself.”

The numbers do not show how particular groups of people fared. While the aggregate number of suicides was largely unchanged or down, Singer, who was not involved in the study, said, the Lancet study did not break down the numbers by age or race. It also excluded low-income and lower-middle-income countries.

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