“Many countries in our study put in place additional mental health supports and financial safety nets, both of which might have buffered any early adverse effects of the pandemic,” said Jane Pirkis, director of the Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, who led the study.
Numerous studies and surveys have found the lockdowns and threat of COVID-19 have negatively impacted mental health, but the researchers say there are a number of additional plausible reasons this might not have resulted in increased suicides, such as:
- financial help, such as the Government’s wage subsidy here in New Zealand
- spending more time with family
- a “beneficial collective feeling of ‘being in it together'” (eg. the ‘team of 5 million’)
- a reduction in everyday stresses (eg. commuting)
- finding new ways to connect with others through the internet.
“There is a need to ensure that efforts that might have kept suicide rates down until now are continued, and to remain vigilant as the longer-term mental health and economic consequences of the pandemic unfold,” said Dr Pirkis.
“The effect of the pandemic on suicide might vary over time and be different for different groups in the population.”
A viral social media post in May last year claimed there had been 61 suicides in just a week, “reaching six a day” thanks to the lockdown. Despite the maths not making sense, the post spread quickly across social media, forcing the Mental Health Foundation and the Chief Coroner to debunk it. The latter said provisional figures showed the suicide rate went down during the lockdown, not up – an outcome confirmed by the new analysis.
When the year-to-June figures were officially released in August, they showed a 5 percent drop on the year before.