Suspected suicide rates in England ‘did not rise after first lockdown’

Suspected suicides rates in England did not rise following the first coronavirus lockdown last spring despite evidence of its impact on mental health, according to analysis of early figures.

There were 121.3 cases per month between April and October 2020, compared with 125.7 per month between January and March 2020, researchers from the University of Manchester found.

Researchers analysed data from English Real Time Surveillance (RTS) systems in areas covering a population of around 13 million.

The systems anonymously record suspected suicides as they occur, which allows for early monitoring of figures before inquests take place.

The researchers found no difference when comparing the rates to the same months in 2019.

The authors say the findings add to international evidence that suicide rates have not risen due to the pandemic and lockdowns, despite studies finding higher levels of distress.

They caution that use of the RTS in this way is new, the findings may change and more work is needed before it can provide a national picture.

They note that there may be a “genuine social cohesion effect at the time of external crises”, acknowledging that suicide rates fell during both world wars.

But they say no suicide rate is acceptable and it is essential to keep focusing on suicide prevention as it is too early to see some of the longer-term impacts of the pandemic, such as ongoing economic adversity.

An empty Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Study author Louis Appleby, Professor of Psychiatry and director of the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH) at the University of Manchester, said: “We didn’t find an increase in suicide rates in England in the months post-lockdown, although we know from surveys and calls to charities that the pandemic has made our mental health worse.»

He added that there may still be variations between demographic groups or geographical areas as the impact of Covid-19 itself had «not been uniform across communities”.

Study author Nav Kapur, Professor of Psychiatry and Population Health at the University of Manchester, said: “How can we square our finding that suicide rates have not risen despite greater reported distress?

“Suicide is complex, and rates do not simply follow levels of mental disorder.

“There may be a genuine social cohesion effect at the time of external crises – we’ve seen this in data from suicide rates around the time of the two world wars, suicide rates decreased and there is this idea that societies pull together when there’s an external threat.”

The study is published in the Lancet Regional Health – Europe journal.


If you or someone you know if struggling with your mental health, you can get help here:

  • Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, by calling 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org

  • Rethink Mental Illness offer practical advice and information for anyone affected by mental health problems on a wide range of topics including treatment, support and care. Phone 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm) or visit rethink.org


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