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Editorials

Trends in suicide during the covid-19 pandemic

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4352 (Published 12 November 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4352

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  1. Ann John, professor of public health and psychiatry1,
  2. Jane Pirkis, director2,
  3. David Gunnell, professor of epidemiology3,
  4. Louis Appleby, director4,
  5. Jacqui Morrissey, assistant director5
  1. 1Swansea University Medical School, Swansea, UK
  2. 2Centre for Mental Health, University of Melbourne, Australia
  3. 3National Institute of Health Research Biomedical Research Centre, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  4. 4National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health, University of Manchester, UK
  5. 5Samaritans, UK
  1. Correspondence to: A John a.john{at}swansea.ac.uk

Prevention must be prioritised while we wait for a clearer picture

As many countries face new stay-at-home restrictions to curb the spread of covid-19, there are concerns that rates of suicide may increase—or have already increased.12 Several factors underpin these concerns, including a deterioration in population mental health,3 a higher prevalence of reported thoughts and behaviours of self-harmamong people with covid-19,4 problems accessing mental health services,4 and evidence suggesting that previous epidemics such as SARS (2003) were associated with a rise in deaths by suicide.5

Widely reported studies modelling the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on suicide rates predicted increases ranging from 1% to 145%,6 largely reflecting variation in underlying assumptions. Particular emphasis has been given to the effect of the pandemic on children and young people. Numerous surveys have highlighted that their mental health has been disproportionately affected, relative to older adults,37 and some suggest an increase in suicidal thoughts and self-harm.8

Supposition, however, is no replacement for evidence. Timely data on rates of suicide are vital, and for some months we have been tracking and reviewing relevant studies …

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