Global Suicide Trends during the COVID-19 Pandemic

July 23, 2021
News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

Data from previous epidemics suggest suicide rates may initially appear to decrease during epidemics but may increase thereafter. Based on a systematic review of suicide data from 21 countries and areas within countries, this study found suicide rates did not increase during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers used an interrupted time-series analysis to model the trend in monthly suicide deaths before COVID-19 (January 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020) compared to monthly suicides during the pandemic (April 1 to July 31, 2020).

The analysis found suicide rates did not increase during the study period. This finding is consistent with other studies from high-income and upper middle-income countries. While evidence suggests increased rates of depression and anxiety, this did not appear to affect suicide rates in the countries included in this study.

According to the authors, early recognition of mental health challenges during the pandemic may have helped increase support and services available. However, they also noted that financial assistance and support for mental health services is now being reduced or withdrawn, which may impact suicide rates over time.

This study had several limitations, including only using data from high- and middle-income countries. Pandemic-related disruptions in reporting and data analysis may have affected the quality and accuracy of the suicide data used. It is also important to keep in mind that the data analyzed is not complete and changes in suicide rates may not become apparent until later.

Despite limitations, this is the first study to examine suicide rates during the COVID-19 pandemic in multiple countries. Ongoing monitoring of suicide data over time can help identify emerging changes. Future research will need to examine how disease control methods (masking, social distancing, and quarantine), as well as financial and mental health supports, may influence suicide rates.

Pirkis, J., John, A., Shin, S., DelPozo-Banos, M., MRes, V. A., Analuisa-Aguilar, P., Appleby, L., Arensman, E., Bantjes, J., Baran, A., Bertolote, J. M., Borges, G., Brecic, P., Caine, E., Castelpietra, G., Chang, S-S., Colchester, D., Crompton, D., Curkovic, M., . . .  Spittal, M. J.  (2021). Suicide trends in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic: An interrupted time-series analysis of preliminary data from 21 countries. The Lancet, 8(7), P579–588.