This page outlines evidence on how the pandemic has affected suicide rates, as well as rates of self-harm, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts.
Suicide rates during the pandemic
As of June 2021, official statistics on suicide rates during the pandemic have not been released. This is because it takes a long time to register, analyse and report on suicide data at a national level, and this has been further delayed due to the pandemic.
Fortunately, provisional suicide rates for 2020 in England has found no evidence that national suicide rates increased. And evidence from the National Confidential Inquiry (NCISH) and the University of Manchester suggests suicide rates during the first national lockdown in England have not been impacted in the way that many of us were concerned about. Real-time data from other nations in the UK and Ireland is not available as surveillance systems are not currently widespread, though some are under development.
But there is no room for complacency. The effects of the pandemic are being disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable people in society and are exacerbating factors we know are related to suicide. Data so far has not captured differences in local areas or particular groups, nor does it tell us what might happen longer term as a result of the economic disruption.
For instance, coronavirus is having a profound effect on the economy. We know that, during the previous recession, suicide rates have risen, and those who are hardest hit by economic downturn are also those who are at greatest risk of suicide – ie, middle-aged men (see our report Dying from Inequality).
Self-harm and suicide attempts
Rates of self-harm appear to have remained stable throughout the pandemic. The UCL Covid-19 Social Study, which has run weekly throughout the time since restrictions began, consistently found that around 2% of people report self-harming in the past week.
Some charities have reported a high number of contacts about self-harm during the pandemic, but it is unclear if this is an increase. Shout, a text mental health service, reported that self-harm was one of its texters top concerns, mentioned in 15% of all conversations since the pandemic began with higher rates among younger texters and female texters.
Even before the pandemic, people who self-harmed could struggle to access support – with only 38% of people in England who self-harmed receiving medical and/or psychological support. Unfortunately, coronavirus has made it harder still for some to access support. Following the first lockdown, a lower proportion of people who had self-harmed or attempted suicide in the UK received medical care in both hospital and GP settings. This raises significant concerns about how people who self-harm have coped during the past year.
The reduction in hospital presentations appears to have been greater among women than men, with GP presentations for self-harm and suicide attempts reducing most among women and under 45s. By September 2020, primary care presentation rates were back to expected levels, likely reflecting the easing of restrictions and reducing fears of burdening the NHS during the summer months.
There is mixed evidence on whether rates of suicidal thoughts increased during the pandemic. Some studies have shown increases, for instancea study of UK adults found the number reporting suicidal thoughts in the past 2 weeks increased from 8% in April 2020 to 13% in February 2021. However, the UCL Covid-19 Social Study, found no change in suicidal thoughts in the year since restrictions began.
Some groups have experienced higher rates of suicidal thoughts throughout the year since restrictions began. This includes young people, those with a diagnosed mental health condition, people from ethnic minority groups, and those with lower incomes consistently reported higher rates of suicidal thoughts, but it is not known whether this increased following restrictions.