Suicide numbers during the first 9-15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with pre-existing trends: an interrupted time series analysis in 33 countries
Predicted increases in suicide were not generally observed in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the picture may be changing and patterns might vary across demographic groups. We aimed to provide a timely, granular picture of the pandemic's impact on suicides globally.
We identified suicide data from official public-sector sources for countries/areas-within-countries, searching websites and academic literature and contacting data custodians and authors as necessary. We sent our first data request on 22nd June 2021 and stopped collecting data on 31st October 2021. We used interrupted time series (ITS) analyses to model the association between the pandemic's emergence and total suicides and suicides by sex-, age- and sex-by-age in each country/area-within-country. We compared the observed and expected numbers of suicides in the pandemic's first nine and first 10-15 months and used meta-regression to explore sources of variation.
We sourced data from 33 countries (24 high-income, six upper-middle-income, three lower-middle-income; 25 with whole-country data, 12 with data for area(s)-within-the-country, four with both). There was no evidence of greater-than-expected numbers of suicides in the majority of countries/areas-within-countries in any analysis; more commonly, there was evidence of lower-than-expected numbers. Certain sex, age and sex-by-age groups stood out as potentially concerning, but these were not consistent across countries/areas-within-countries. In the meta-regression, different patterns were not explained by countries’ COVID-19 mortality rate, stringency of public health response, economic support level, or presence of a national suicide prevention strategy. Nor were they explained by countries’ income level, although the meta-regression only included data from high-income and upper-middle-income countries, and there were suggestions from the ITS analyses that lower-middle-income countries fared less well.
Although there are some countries/areas-within-countries where overall suicide numbers and numbers for certain sex- and age-based groups are greater-than-expected, these countries/areas-within-countries are in the minority. Any upward movement in suicide numbers in any place or group is concerning, and we need to remain alert to and respond to changes as the pandemic and its mental health and economic consequences continue.
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