Rates of suicide were ‘statistically significantly lower’ during the first lockdown in 2020, compared to the same period in the previous three years, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
However, this may not demonstrate the ‘true scale of the pandemic’, mental health charity Mind has said.
The new dataset is the first assessment of suicides in England and Wales that occurred during the early months of the pandemic.
It found that 1,603 people died by suicide between April and July 2020, equivalent to a mortality rate of 9.2 deaths per 100,000 people: statistically significantly lower than rates for the same period in the previous three years.
During the same period in 2019 there were 1,955 deaths by suicide, while the five-year average (2015 to 2019 April to July period) was 1,835.
This lower rate was primarily driven by a decrease in instances among men, the ONS said.
Lead statistician for the ONS said that the findings are ‘contrary to some speculation’ during the early stages of the pandemic.
However, Mind told Healthcare Leader that while it welcomes any reduction in the number of people dying by suicide, ‘we need to understand the bigger picture behind the statistics’.
‘These statistics only reflect the first lockdown and so we are yet to see the true scale of the pandemic and how that will affect the data. The reasons someone might choose to end their own life are many and complex,’ Vicki Nash, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at Mind said.
‘Not all self-inflicted deaths are mental health related, but a significant proportion of people who take their own lives have asked for mental health support within the last 12 months of their lives, suggesting services have at times failed people when they need help the most.’
She added that during the first lockdown, there were drops in the number of referrals to NHS mental health services, while other support services shut.
She also said that ‘lots of people told us they didn’t think their problems were serious enough to burden the NHS, so didn’t seek help at the time’.
At the end of last month, a report by NHS Confederation found that 1.5 million young people may need new or additional mental health support as a result of the pandemic.
Ms Nash said: ‘The UK Government must make sustained investment in NHS services as well as better mental health support embedded in communities – including non-NHS support services like local Minds to help people with related issues like housing, employment and benefits rebuild their lives and thrive.’
Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak was urged to make good on commitments made to improve these services, with NHS Providers calling for dedicated capital investment as part of the October spending review.