Registered Suicides in England Fell in 2020 Because Inquests Were Delayed During Lockdowns

It was reported last week that despite fears of the mental health crisis prompted by the lockdowns leading to a spike in suicides in 2020, the number of people committing suicide in the U.K. did not rise after the first lockdown. While the provisional rate of suicides for 2020 is lower than that of 2019, this may be due to delays to coroner inquests, meaning the actual figure could be much higher, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Mail has the story.

Registered suicides in England fell in 2020 as inquests were delayed during the coronavirus pandemic, official data shows.

Some 4,902 suicides were registered across the country last year – giving a provisional rate of 9.9 suicide deaths per 100,000 people, the ONS said.

That represents a fall from 2019, when the rate was 10.8 suicide deaths per 100,000 people.

The ONS said the fall “most likely reflects delays to coroner inquests, because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as opposed to a genuine decrease in suicide”.

The 2020 figures are provisional and will be finalised by the ONS in late 2021.

All deaths by suicide are investigated by coroners, with deaths usually registered around five to six months after they occur due to the length of time it takes to hold an inquest.

Of the suicides registered in 2020, more than half (51.2%) occurred that year. Some 3,674 involved males, and 1,228 females.

Between April and June 2020, during the first national lockdown, the provisional suicide rate fell by 36.1% compared with the same period in 2019.

The number of registered suicides in this quarter was the lowest since 2001.

This is most likely to be due to the impact of the pandemic on the coroner’s service, such as delays to inquests as the service adapted to social distancing measures, the ONS said.

The number of registered suicides increased in the second half of 2020, most likely due to inquests resuming, the ONS said. 

In November, the charity Rethink Mental Illness said the number of people turning to its website for support with suicidal thoughts had tripled in the first six months of lockdown. A new study also found that the lack of in-person treatments – because of lockdowns – has made mental health patients feel as though they “were missing out on care”.

The Mail’s report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A report from the Journal of the American Medical Association shows a decrease in U.S. suicides in 2020 by 2,700, from 47,500 to 44,800. But, at the same time, there was a substantial increase in the number of “unintended injury” deaths (an increase of 19,000 from 2019) which was “largely driven by drug overdose[s]”.

Dr Gary Ordog, MD, from the Department of Health Services in the County of Los Angeles (retired) said:

I was surprised by the suicide rate reported to have a major decrease in 2020. It seems from most other reports that the suicide rate has increased since the pandemic began. This may be explained by the fact that the category of “Unintentional Injury” had a major increase at the same time, and the fact that this category includes drug overdoses. As there is often inadequate history in a fatal drug overdose case, many of these may be purposeful and so suicidal. This would explain the perceived increase in suicide rate since the current pandemic began. Perhaps further analysis of the data would elucidate this incongruity.

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