Dr Eve Griffin, Chief Executive Officer of National Suicide Research Foundation. Photo: Rubén Tapia/UCC TV

Study highlights need for timely data on suicide

A range of factors during the Covid-19 pandemic served as protective effects to the risk of suicide, new research from Cork has shown.

The new study published by researchers in the School of Public Health at University College Cork and the National Suicide Research Foundation has shown that there was no increase in suicide rates in the initial months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The systematic review, published in Social Science and Psychiatric Epidemiology, reviewed data from more than 25 countries, across 4 of the 6 World Health Organisation (WHO) regions.

The review found that there was no increase in rates of suicide between two time periods, before (prior to February 2020) and during (from March 2020 to June 2021) the Covid-19 pandemic. The pooled suicide rate in the studied period before the pandemic was 11.38 per 100,000 and in the period during the pandemic was 10.65 per 100,000.

Researches have said that despite concerns about the potential negative effects of the pandemic on suicide risk factors such as mental health issues, domestic violence, and financial stressors, a range of factors may have served as protective effects to the risk of suicide during this period including the economic supports provided by many governments to mitigate temporary business closures, boosts in mental health care (including telehealth), and a strengthening of community and family bonds during this time.

Researchers also said longer-term studies are needed to monitor trends of suicide in the post-pandemic period and that this study highlights the need for high-quality and timely data on suicide deaths worldwide, to inform adequate suicide prevention and support.

Dr Eve Griffin, Chief Executive Officer with the National Suicide Research Foundation, said: “There is an opportunity to reflect on what worked well in terms of providing mental health support during the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, the economic measures put in place by several countries, including Ireland, were critical in providing families and individuals with ongoing support during that time. Despite this, we know that engagement with mental health services increased during the pandemic, therefore the longer-term impacts of the pandemic need to be monitored.”

Dr Ana Paula da Cunha Varella, School of Public Health at UCC, and lead researcher of the study said: “Our study not only sheds light on mental health outcomes during crises but also emphasises the critical need for improved suicide data reporting. Enhanced surveillance systems, including real-time monitoring, are essential to better understand the impact of preventive efforts and to guide more effective strategies for suicide prevention.”