Study finds no difference in rates of suicide before and during pandemic in the west

Study Finds No Difference In Rates Of Suicide Before And During Pandemic In The West
The research examined suicide rates and methods of probable suicide in the west of Ireland over a 24-month period . Photo: PA Images
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Seán McCárthaigh

A new study has found no evidence of any changes in adult suicide rates in the west of Ireland as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite some reports of increased rates of self-harm and mental distress during various lockdowns.

Research carried out by staff at University Hospital Galway compared suicide rates and methods of probable suicide in the west of Ireland over a 24-month period both before and after the onset of Covid-19 at the end of February 2020.


Researchers examined post-mortem reports conducted at UHG of people who probably died by suicide as well as the lifetime engagement of such individuals with mental health services across the two periods covering March 2018 to February 2022.

The study identified 85 cases of individuals who died by probable suicide in each time period.

The results of the study, which are published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, also showed no difference in the methods employed in probable suicides between the two periods.

The proportion of individuals with a history of engagement with mental health services was also similar with 33 per cent of probable suicide cases having contact with mental health services prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and 27 per cent since the onset of the virus spreading globally.


One of the study’s main authors, Dylan Mannix, said the impact of prolonged periods of restrictions and lockdowns on the mental wellbeing of individuals had been somewhat unclear due to divergent available data to date.

Dr Mannix, a senior psychiatrist with Galway-Roscommon Mental Health Services, said their research was designed to ascertain if there were any differences in suicide rates before and since the pandemic.

He said its findings were consistent with a number of other recent studies pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic carried out in the US and Japan.

However, Dr Mannix acknowledged that a number of other studies of shorter duration in Norway and Mexico had demonstrated contrasting results.


The psychiatrist said the findings of the west of Ireland study were also in conflict with some historical evidence from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 2018-2019 and the 2003 SARS epidemic which recorded a modest increase in suicide rates.

However, Dr Mannix also pointed out that a systematic review conducted in 2021 concluded there was minimal robust evidence linking infectious epidemics with suicide.

He said there were a number of potential supportive factors that might have reduced suicide rates including that mental health supports largely continued during the Covid-19 pandemic even though consultations were often held online.

Dr Mannix said social engagement was also carried on via social media, which ensured human contact remained possible as Ireland had predominantly good quality internet services.

Additionally, he said government supports including “pandemic payments” for individuals with reduced income as a result of Covid-19 related restrictions, reduced the severity of potential financial difficulties.

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