New data doesn’t definitively show zero increase in suicides across England
11 November 2020
What was claimed
New data shows zero increase in suicide figures since lockdown.
The data, which covers an area of around 9 million people shows, on average, 84 suicides a month before lockdown (in January, February and March), and 85.4 a month in June, July and August. The researchers say this appears to show no rise in suicide "post-lockdown".
What was claimed
There is no tsunami, no cliff edge and no explosion in suicide figures.
We cannot be sure about that from these early figures, as they only cover approximately one sixth of England.
“Every life lost to suicide, is a tragedy, however this data showing zero increase in suicide figures since lockdown should be reassuring to those who have been concerned regarding the mental health impact of coronavirus and lockdown. I also hope it will now put an end to some of the irresponsible narrative some have been using around mental health and suicide. There is no tsunami, no cliff edge and no explosion in suicide figures.”
Health minister Nadine Dorries claimed on Twitter that new data shows no increase in suicide figures since lockdown.
The figures represent a small proportion of the population of England and so do not definitively show what has happened to the overall number of suicides since the beginning of the pandemic. This data compares suicide rates in the first three months of the year with those in June, July and August.
Official figures on suicide rates are published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). However, as we have written before, there is often a delay on this data as all suicides must be investigated by a coroner, and it often takes around five months to hold an inquest before the death can be registered. This means, the ONS says, we “do not currently know the total number of suicides that occurred during the pandemic”.
The figures referred to by Ms Dorries were published by the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH). Its latest report examined suicide figures collected by NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) using real-time surveillance. These surveillance systems, which can be led by coroners or the police, enable public health teams and suicide prevention groups to respond to emerging patterns and offer support to the bereaved.
These figures give an earlier indication of suicide numbers than the official ONS data, but are not comprehensive. NCISH said the areas represented by these STPs have a population of nine million—approximately one sixth of the whole of England.
They show that there were, on average, 84 suicides a month before lockdown (in January, February and March) in these areas, and 85.4 a month in June, July and August.
NCISH said this second figure was 7.3% higher than the equivalent period in 2019, when the monthly average was 79.6.
It said there appears to have been no rise in suicide "post-lockdown" in these areas, and the higher figures in 2020 “should be seen in the context of a rising national rate and maturing real-time surveillance systems”.
However, it also noted important caveats with this data: “These are early figures and could change over time or with the inclusion of more areas. We cannot rule out higher rates in some local areas or population sub-groups, especially as the effect of Covid-19 itself has varied between communities.
“In particular, it is too soon to examine the full long-term impact of economic adversity on mental health and suicide.”
This means that the data cannot be used to definitively say there has been a zero increase in suicides across England, or that these figures will not rise.
The Samaritans’ helpline is available at all hours and can be contacted free on 116 123, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update 16 November 2020
This piece has been updated to include more context to the findings in the conclusion, which were included in the original article.
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