Will the stresses of COVID-19 lead to a rise in suicides?

According to Charis Chang on news.com.au, the pressures of COVID-19 have affected the mental health and wellbeing of an estimated 75% of Australians, and led to an unprecedented increase in calls to crisis lines. Between August 10th and September 6th, calls to Lifeline were up 15.3%, contact with Beyond Blue rose by 38.6 per cent, and calls to the Kids Helpline increased 24.5%.

The use of crisis lines in locked-down Victoria has risen more sharply than other states, and the National Ambulance Surveillance System has shown that ambulance trips related to self-harm in Victoria in the first half of 2020 were up 17.6%, mental health interventions rose 13%, and there’s been a 20% increase in the use of mental health services throughout August (as opposed to 12.5% for other states and territories). As the pandemic continues to impact people’s mental health, employment, finances, social connections, relationships, and access to healthcare, there’s concerns these stressors could lead to an increase in people ending their own lives.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the National Mental Health Commission launched the National Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring website to provide real-time tracking of self-harm and suicide across the country. Sources include the Australian Bureau of Statistics, coronial offices, hospitals, and national survey data. Providing a better understanding of suicide and self-harm and pinpointing those at an increased risk will keep governments, services, and communities in the loop, and encourage informed conversations. This should lead to better policy and service delivery decisions.

The site is managed by suicide prevention experts, academics, service providers, and people with a lived experience.

“This brings together the most comprehensive collation of data to date for suicide deaths and self-harm across (Australia) in a single, web-based, interactive and integrated platform,” said AIHW Deputy CEO Matthew James.

“Every life lost to suicide is one too many,” said NMHC CEO Christine Morgan. “We can all take action to prevent suicide with some understanding of who is at risk...this new national system and the representation of the data will help facilitate public conversations about suicide, self-harm, and suicide ideation…saving lives.”

Suicide and self-harm are complex issues, but they can be prevented. We all have a valuable, unique role to play in saving lives, though we need to be mindful of our own wellbeing when engaging with potentially triggering content.

Need help now? Call Lifeline on 13 11 14

Grant J Everett, Panorama magazine

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