The suicide rate in England and Wales fell during the first national coronavirus lockdown, analysis of death registrations suggests.
Some 1,603 suicides occurred between April and July 2020, around three-quarters of which were of males, according to analysis of provisional data by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This is down 18% from the same period in 2019 and 12.7% below the average for the previous five years.
It equates to a mortality rate of 9.2 deaths per 100,000 people, significantly lower than rates for the same period in the previous three years, but similar to the 2016 rate.
The fall was primarily fuelled by a drop in the male suicide rate (to 13.9 deaths per 100,000 males), while the female rate remained at a similar level (4.7 deaths per 100,000 females).
The Samaritans called the data “very reassuring” and called for the Government to introduce a national system of real-time suicide reporting to help sustain the fall.
It is the first assessment of suicides that occurred during the early months of the pandemic, due to delays in death registrations while deaths are investigated by coroners.
The ONS said most suicides for the period will now have been registered, and while the latest data is an underestimate, it would take an “unfeasibly large” number of late registrations to conclude that the rate rose during these months.
Julie Stanborough, ONS head of health analysis and life events, said: “The latest available evidence shows that suicide rates did not an increase during the early stages of the pandemic, which is contrary to some speculation at the time.
“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 to the same period in previous years.”
She said the findings are consistent with more contemporaneous surveillance, and research on other countries such as the US, Germany, Japan and Australia.
The ONS said the largest decrease was in those aged 10 to 24 – down 30.2% from 6.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019 to 4.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2020.
The only other age group to observe a statistically significant fall was those aged between 25 and 44.
Louis Appleby, professor of psychiatry at the University of Manchester, said: “The mental health of young people has been a major concern during the pandemic and there is evidence of greater distress, yet this does not seem to have translated into higher suicide rates.”
He added that “something kept rates down in the first wave – social cohesion, mutual support, the commitment of services and charities – and we need to make sure we don’t lose this”.
Jacqui Morrissey, assistant director of research and influencing at the Samaritans, said: “The latest ONS data is very reassuring as it confirms that there was no dramatic increase in suicide rates during the early phase of the pandemic, contrary to what many expected.
“In fact, fewer people died by suicide in the early months of the pandemic than in the same period in previous years and research suggests this may be down to people pulling together and looking out for one another more.
“However this data is now over a year old and we know that the pandemic is going to have a long lasting impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing so there is no room for complacency.
“The Government must put suicide prevention at the heart of post-pandemic recovery plans and, if this drop is to be more than just a one off, introduce a national system of real-time suicide reporting that means we can rely on accurate, up-to-date information for tackling suicide and measuring progress.”
Caroline Harper, mental health lead at Bupa, said: “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.”
She added that it has been a tough period, and that there must be continued awareness of mental health support as the nation recovers from the pandemic.
If you are struggling to cope, call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI) or contact other sources of support, such as those listed on the NHS’s help for suicidal thoughts webpage.
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