In Leipzig, the suicide rate during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic was similar to that of previous years. This is what scientists at Leipzig University Hospital, led by Dr Daniel Radeloff, found out in a joint project with the local health authority; their findings were recently published in the journal Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences. The study compared suicide mortality from March to September 2020 with data from previous years, taking into account seasonal fluctuations in suicide rates and a general decline in suicide mortality in Germany.
“The results of our study provide a regional snapshot. But the available international data also shows that the risk of suicide did not increase in the early stages of the pandemic,” said Radeloff. Psychiatrist Rainer Papsdorf, who was involved in the study, added: “However, that may well change as the pandemic progresses. Risk factors for suicide may increase: for example, in the form of rising unemployment, increased substance use, loneliness, or higher prevalence of mental illness.” With this in mind, Papsdorf stressed the need to continue monitoring suicide rates over time and to replace speculation with scientific evidence.
The researchers were surprised to find that lower suicide rates were recorded during the first lockdown than in the months prior to the pandemic. This difference is predominantly due to high suicide rates in January and February 2020. But protective factors may also have played a role during lockdown: an external existential threat such as the coronavirus pandemic may lead to a short-lived increase in a person’s sense of social belonging – which is considered an important factor that protects against suicide.
The regional data from Leipzig on suicide mortality associated with COVID-19 contributed to an international study recently published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry. The authors of the meta-analysis also report unchanged suicide rates during the early stages of the pandemic. In addition to the Leipzig survey, German regional data from Frankfurt, Cologne and Leverkusen was included in the study and evaluated together with around 40 data sets from 21 countries. The International COVID-19 Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration (ICSPRC) aims to monitor suicide rates during the pandemic as early as possible. National cause of death statistics are often published with a delay of many months. The ICSPRC therefore pursues the approach of quickly bringing together available international data and evaluating this information meta-analytically.
Radeloff, who is a senior physician at the Department of Paediatric Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics at Leipzig University Hospital, emphasised: “People suffering from mental distress can still seek help from the psychotherapeutic and psychiatric facilities during the pandemic. Care is available, and in some locations it has been expanded to include telemedicine services.”
Original title of the publication in Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences:
Trends in suicide rates during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in a major German city, doi.org/10.1017/S2045796021000019
Original title of the publication in The Lancet Psychiatry:
No evidence of a significant increase in risk of suicide in first months of the pandemic, but continued monitoring needed, doi.org/10.1016/ S2215-0366(21)00091-2
Please note: Journalists are asked to observe the German Society for Suicide Prevention’s press code for publications on the subject of suicide.
Created by: Anne Grimm