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Suicide rates remain stable during COVID-19

Dr Margaret Shi
09 Dec 2020

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic had no effect on the rate of suspected suicides between February and August 2020 following the Public Health Emergency Declaration in Queensland, Australia, on 29 January 2020, results of an interrupted time-series analysis have shown.

In the study, data of 3,793 suspected suicides from 1 January 2015 to 31 August 2020 were extracted from the interim Queensland Suicide Register (iQSR), a state-wide real-time suicide surveillance system in Queensland, Australia. Data on the iQSR was sourced from police report of a death to a coroner. Two QSR staff members independently classed the probability of a death by suicide as possible, probable, or beyond reasonable doubt. [Lancet Psychiatry 2020, doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30435-1]

Comparable rates of suspected suicide were reported prior to and following the Public Health Emergency Declaration on 29 January 2020, with an unadjusted monthly rate of 14.85 per 100,000 people (3,793 suspected suicides) between 1 January 2015 and 1 January 2020 vs 14.07 per 100,000 people (443 suspected suicides) between 1 February 2020 and 31 August 2020.

No evidence of a change in suspected suicide rates between 1 January 2015 and 31 August 2020 was demonstrated following the Public Health Emergency Declaration (rate ratio [RR], 0.94; 95 percent confidence interval [Cl], 0.83 to 1.05; p=0.27), and with multivariate adjustment for overdispersion, seasonality and pre-exposure non-linearities (RR, 1.02; 95 percent Cl, 0.83 to 1.25; p=0.85).

Similarly, there was no evidence of absolute or relative increase in rates of motives or triggers, recent unemployment (p=0.29), financial problems (p=0.80), relationship breakdown (p=0.51), or domestic violence (p=0.33), for suspected suicides between February 2020 and August 2020 compared with those between 1 January 2016 and 31 January 2020.

“Our study’s findings underline the importance of a proactive approach towards mental health promotion and suicide prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic,” concluded the researchers.

“Although results provide some short-term reassurance about the effect of lockdown and stay-at-home orders, further monitoring and reporting of real-time suicide surveillance system is needed in other states and countries to confirm generalizability and assess the differential effects of COVID-19 compared with Queensland, where total cases have been relatively low. Further research with more power requires analyses of suicide rates stratified by age group, for example, in older people during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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