Has the suicide rate increased 200% since COVID-19 lockdowns started in March? No, that's not true: Dr. Rajeev Ramchand, a top suicide prevention expert at the National Institute of Mental Health, told Lead Stories he has not seen any data to support that claim. Studies in Australia and the United Kingdom also failed to find an increase in suicides during the pandemic.
The claim appeared in a post (archived here) published on Instagram on November 15, 2020. It opened:
Suicide figures are up 200% since lockdown. Could 2 friends please screen shot and repost? We're trying to demonstrate that someone is always listening.
The post cites no attribution or sourcing for the 200% figure.
While there is agreement among experts that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread emotional and psychological problems, officials say there is no scientific data to indicate that duress has resulted in increased suicides, much less a 200% jump.
Ramchand, a senior adviser for psychiatric epidemiology and suicide prevention at the National Institute of Mental Health, told Lead Stories in an email November 18, 2020:
There is currently no publicly available published data we are aware of documenting increases in suicides during the pandemic. We are aware that the VA recently released data on suicide deaths among Veteran patients enrolled in the VA and documented no evidence of an increase in suicides since March of 2020. States or other jurisdictions may also be tracking suicide deaths but we have not seen any public-facing reports to date. We are also aware that agencies like the VA and CDC are tracking non-fatal related suicide events, like emergency department visits for suicide attempts, but aside from what is included in the recent VA report we have not seen any other data released publicly.
It is a widely held observation among suicide experts, and not just in the United States.
The Lancet, a respected international weekly medical journal that has been publishing since 1823, looked at suicide rates in Australia during the pandemic. In an article published November 16, 2020, the independent journal reported the results of a study that analyzed "suspected suicide rates in 2020 relative to 2015-19 to assess any early effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Queensland, Australia."
The study determined that suicides from January 1, 2015, to January 1, 2020, occurred at a rate of 14.85 deaths per 100,00 people. The rate from February 1, 2020, onward was 14.07 deaths per 100,000 people, the study said. The scientists concluded:
We found no absolute or relative increases in the motives for suspected suicides, including recent unemployment, financial problems, relationship breakdown, or domestic violence from February to August, 2020, compared with the pre-exposure period.
Nor has a correlation been found in the United Kingdom, the mental health charity Samaritans reported on Twitter on November 10, 2020, saying:
New data shows suicide rates during lockdown have not been impacted in the way many were concerned about. However, this still means that we must do everything we can to make sure people most at risk are getting the support they need in these tough times.
The full article by Samaritans article can be found here.
Evidence gathered in Massachusetts also indicates that suicide levels have not increased. Jeremy Samuel Faust, an emergency room physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, started looking at statewide suicide rates in the spring. His finding, as published in an opinion piece he wrote for The Washington Post on October 21, 2020, said:
Suicide rates in Massachusetts neither rose nor fell last spring. Suicide rates did not change from expected rates at all. ...
The scenario was unlikely, but one we had to consider. No matter how we looked, we kept finding the same thing. Suicide rates did not budge during the stay-at-home advisory period (March 23 until a phased reopening began in late May) in Massachusetts, which had one of the longest such periods of any state in the nation.
All this is not to say health authorities aren't concerned about the possibility of increased suicides.
In the United Kingdom, Bristol Medical School Professor David J. Gunnell wrote about that concern in the June 7, 2020 issue of The Lancet.
The mental health effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic might be profound and there are suggestions that suicide rates will rise, although this is not inevitable. Suicide is likely to become a more pressing concern as the pandemic spreads and has longer-term effects on the general population, the economy, and vulnerable groups. Preventing suicide therefore needs urgent consideration.