It’s too early to say how many suicides have happened during the pandemic

20 November 2020
What was claimed

There were more suicide deaths than coronavirus deaths in the last two months.

Our verdict

There is no evidence for this. Due to the time taken to formally register a suicide death, official figures on recent suicides do not yet exist.

A widely shared post on Facebook claims that deaths from suicide have been higher than deaths from coronavirus in the past two months. This claim is unsubstantiated as no official evidence is available for the number of suicides in the past few months. We have seen similar versions of this claim before.

Deaths caused by suicide

The most recent figures on suicides were released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in September, covering deaths registered in April to June 2020 in England. The Facebook claim was first posted on 25 October, so we can assume the “past two months” refers to the two months until before this date, beginning 25 August. This data is not yet available.

It is also important to note that the figures published by the ONS on suicides show when the deaths were registered, not when they happened. The ONS said its latest figures cannot be used to show the actual number of suicides that took place in 2020, as less than one in four suicides registered so far this year also happened in 2020. 

All suicides are investigated by a coroner, and it often takes around five months to hold an inquest before the death can be registered. The ONS has warned that the low number of deaths registered as caused by suicide between April and June “likely reflects delays to inquests because of the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on the coroner’s service”. 

This means that, even when the data on the third or final quarter of 2020 is available, it will not show a complete picture of the deaths caused by suicide in the past few months. We are unlikely to have the evidence to definitively prove or disprove this claim until at least next year—meaning that it should not be shared as a fact.

We do know that across the whole of 2019, 5,691 deaths caused by suicide were registered in England and Wales, and 5,420 in 2018 (averaging 474 a month in 2019 and 452 in 2018). As mentioned above, due to delays in registering suicide deaths, this does not mean this is the final number of suicides that took place in each of these years.   

Deaths caused by coronavirus

In the two months between 25 August and 25 October, government figures show there were 3,788 deaths from coronavirus in England and Wales that occurred within 28 days of a positive test. This would average out at 1,894 a month.

If deaths by suicide were higher during this period, then this will mark a considerable increase in the number of death registrations we have seen in previous years. 

It is also important to note that coronavirus deaths have increased significantly since 25 October. In the last month, to 17 November, there were 8,736 coronavirus deaths in England and Wales.

Contacting Samaritans

The Samaritans’ helpline is available at all hours and can be contacted free on 116 123, or you can email jo@samaritans.org.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as missing context because we don’t have data on this yet.

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