A report has found that the rates of suicide in England and Wales dropped ‘significantly’ in 2020, but is that the full story?
Content warning: this article contains a discussion on the topic of suicide.
A new report, released 2 September 2021, from the Office for National Statistics, has found a ‘statistically significant’ decrease in the number of suicides that occurred between April and July 2020, in comparison to the same period in the previous three years.
In total, 1,603 suicides were recorded, which is the equivalent of an age-standardised mortality rate of 9.2 deaths per 100,000 people. It’s noted that the lower suicide rate was primarily affected by a decrease in the number of men completing suicide, the rate for women showing no significant change. Additionally, the number of young people between the ages of 10–24 and 25–44 also decreased in comparison to the same period in 2019.
“The latest available evidence shows that suicide rates did not increase during the early stages of the pandemic, which is contrary to some speculation at the time,” comments Julie Stanborough, Health Analysis and Life Events, Office for National Statistics. “Instead, we found suicide rates to be lower between April and July 2020 – the first wave of COVID-19 in England and Wales – when compared with the same period in previous years.”
Julie notes how the ONS findings are consistent with other real-time surveillance and other studies looking at suicide rates following the first national lockdown. In addition, she also points to comparable research from other countries – including the USA, Germany, Japan, and Australia – where rates also remained unchanged or declined in the early months of the pandemic.
While, on the surface, this decrease paints a more positive picture than what has been seen previously, Caroline Harper, mental health lead at Bupa, points to research from the Mental Health Foundation that uncovered an increase in suicidal thoughts during the pandemic.
“Suicidal thoughts and feelings can affect anyone at any time, regardless of your age, gender, or background. There’s no ‘one reason’ that causes you to experience these thoughts – any changes to your life can affect how you feel, and these can happen to anyone,” Caroline explains.
“There’s no getting away from the fact that this has been a tough period for our mental health. For instance, high levels of anxiety and depression have been reported while the country has been in lockdown. As we navigate our way out of the pandemic, we must continue to raise awareness of the mental health support available for everyone.
“No one should suffer in silence or think that nothing can be done. If you or a loved one are struggling with your mental health, it’s important to seek medical help at the right time.”
Suicide is an incredibly complex topic, without straightforward answers or solutions – and while a fall in the number of suicides completed in 2020 is something to note, there is still much to be done for those who continue to be at risk. As we look towards the future, and towards life after the pandemic, learn about mental health, stigma, the support that is available to you, and the ways that you can be there for others at the most vital of times.
If you are struggling and would like to talk to a counsellor, connect with a professional using counselling-directory.org.uk