Has lockdown caused an increase in suicides?

The death of Hollywood producer Steve Bing has raised questions about the link between lockdown and a heightened risk of suicide.

The 55-year old erstwhile boyfriend of actress Liz Hurley and father to her son, Damien, jumped from the 27th floor of a high-rise in Century City, LA yesterday.

Friends said he’d been left feeling depressed about being isolated and the lack of human contact during the coronavirus lockdown.

Is COVID 19 heightening the risk of suicide?

The combination of the lockdown, financial insecurity and general anxiety created by the COVID 19 pandemic is causing concern for mental health professionals. Speaking to the New York Times, Matthew Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard commented: “There’s not only an increase in anxiety, but the more important piece is social isolation. We’ve never had anything like this — and we know social isolation is related to suicide.”

The closest comparison we can make is with the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 – we know influenza death rates in the United States during the years 1918-1920 significantly and positively related to suicide – however the picture was not completely clear, as alcohol consumption lowered between 1910 and 1920, flattening national suicide rates. 

Likewise, for COVID 19, experts believe suicides may rise, but violent and accidental deaths to fall, as bars have been closed and there have been fewer people on the streets

Many doctors are concerned about suicide at the moment. Dr. Shailinder Singh a psychiatrist working in a psychiatric emergency room in a New York City hospital, said: “This is an unprecedented event for the vast majority of people. It is certainly reasonable to expect the risk of suicide increasing secondary to the economic and social fallout.

However, many researchers believe the economic fallout from COVID 19 and the lockdown is going to have far-reaching effects on suicide rates. 

Will an economic downturn mean more suicides?

Certainly, the evidence is stronger when it comes to the impact of economic hardship. Suicide rates in the United States have been rising steadily since 2000 — by 35 percent overall, across most age groups — but the rate of increase roughly doubled in the wake of the 2008 downturn. Historically, the job losses, evictions and displacements caused by recessions tend to lead to an increase in rates of suicides.

The fact we have been stuck inside and relying on screens is another reason why experts are concerned. A study found that, deaths increased among American adolescents between 2010 and 2015, especially among females. 

This correlated with less time on non-screen activities such as in-person socialising, reading, sports/exercise, and attending religious services. 

The fact is, we do not know for sure whether lockdown and COVID 19 are increasing suicide rates – this won’t be clear for some time.

Young people and mental health 

Initial signs are that young people may be particularly vulnerable to suicide during lockdown.

According to a clinical commissioning group, three teenagers in Kent are said to have taken their own lives while suffering the psychological effects of lockdown.

The mental strain of coronavirus restrictions was thought to be a contributory factor in the suicides of the three young people.

Research by YoungMinds near the start of the pandemic showed that 83% of children with existing mental health problems felt the COVID 19 crisis and social distancing measures made their mental health worse.

If you need to talk to someone about suicidal feelings, or are concerned about someone, call the Samaritans on 116 123.

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