Thursday, September 23, 2021

Suicide rate unexpectedly plummeted during the pandemic

Well, here's a surprise. We have been hearing ad nauseum from mental health experts over the last year or two that the COVID-19 pandemic was causing a mental health crisis of unprecedented proportions, and that lockdowns are unfair, even dangerous, and can be expected to lead to widespread poor mental health outcomes and probably a rash of suicides, something I have written about before in these pages.

However, the first major Canadian study on the matter, published recently in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, shows that the number of suicides in Canada actually fell by 32% during the first year of the pandemic. (A similar American study by the CDC found that suicides were about 3% down in America in 2020 - 2% lower for males and 8% lower for females - although some demographics, principally Latinos, did see a small rise.)

Suicide rates usually go up in times of economic, housing and health insecurity and, government benefits or not, 2020 was surely such a time. So, the study's authors are scrambling to explain the unexpected statistic, suggesting that maybe government-funded financial benefits and a deliberate increased focus on mental health might be the cause. Another causal factor may be the increased social cohesion the pandemic brought about, as neighbours met and helped each other out, with a sense of collective community. Well, maybe... 

The study's authors do also point out that deaths from opioid overdoses did surge during the pandemic, and intentional fatal opioid overdoses are traditionally NOT included in suicide figures for some reason (why?) Perhaps concerned for their grant funding, some researchers are suggesting that maybe the suicide rate will surge AFTER the pandemic, as people emerge from "survival mode", and "battle fatigue" starts to manifest.

The Canadian study echoes the findings of an earlier metastudy of 21 other countries which also shows a reduction in suicides rates during the pandemic, so this does seem to be a general finding. However, it should be noted that the countries that did best were those who suffered the least, both in economic and in public health terms.

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