Many people, including mental health experts, anticipated a dramatic increase in suicide rates following the outbreak of Covid-19. But in fact, this has not been the case and most of the research published in scientific journals points to either no change or a decrease in rates of suicide following the pandemic.
This is according to a new international study on the impact of Covid-19 on rates of suicide and self-harm in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Led by Dr Duleeka Knipe from the Population Health Sciences Institute at the Bristol Medical School at the University of Bristol, the research was conducted by a group of scientists from across the globe, including Stellenbosch University (SU) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).
The findings of their study were published recently in the journal PLOS Global Public Health.
The researchers systematically collected and synthesised evidence on the impact of the pandemic on suicide and self-harm in LMICs, as part of an ongoing systematic review that continuously identifies and collates research on suicidal behaviour through a comprehensive automated search of multiple databases in all languages. They used this extensive database to identify all studies with data about the impact of the pandemic on suicide deaths and rates of self-harm in LMICs. They also assessed the quality of the studies and the methodology used to ensure that badly designed studies with unreliable data did not contaminate their findings.
“The most robust evidence, from time-series studies, indicated either a reduction or no change in suicide and self-harm in LMICs following the pandemic,” says one of the researchers, Prof Jason Bantjes from the SAMRC and the Institute for Life Course Health Research at SU.
“These findings are important and raise interesting questions about why when looking at the best available data we do not find any changes in suicide rates in LMICs following the pandemic. This is not to say the pandemic has not caused social and psychological distress and economic hardship, but it would seem from the available evidence that this has not translated into an increase in suicidal behaviour at an aggregate population level.”
According to Bantjes, this finding echoes the results of a previous study published in The Lancet Psychiatry which found that suicide rates in high-income countries also remained largely unchanged or declined in the early phase of the pandemic compared with expected levels based on suicide trends before the pandemic.
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