[This article is part of the COVID-19 Information Dissemination (COVID-19 ID) Project — a partnership between Community Development and Health Network (CDHN) and FactCheckNI. Its aim is to improve people’s health literacy about COVID-19 by providing accurate and up-to-date information that will increase knowledge, understanding and confidence and enable people to make good health decisions.]
CLAIM: Suicides have increased 200% in the COVID-19 lockdown period.
CONCLUSION: UNSUBSTANTIATED. There are no official statistics or evidence to support the claim that the rates of suicide increased 200% during the period of lockdown (i.e. from 23 March to present).
Tweets claiming that deaths by suicide have increased 200% since lockdown spread on Twitter on 29 June 2020. The tweets, shared across the UK, do not specifically state in which region they are referring to, but in the body of one of the widely shared tweets, it references “Samaritans UK”.
Statistics on suicide
FactCheckNI has previously published about rates of suicide in Northern Ireland and how statistics regarding deaths by suicide are compiled in the UK, more generally.
Rates of deaths by suicide in the UK are reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Its most recent statistics (based on information recorded on death certificates) are focused on deaths registered in 2018. They have also published provisional figures for England for 2019.
In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) also reports on the rates of death by suicide in the region. Its most recent statistical release on the rates of suicide in Northern Ireland pertained to the period covering 2018. NISRA has also issued provisional suicide numbers for 2019, in the form of quarterly tables.
None of these official sources of statistics have released data covering the period of lockdown (i.e. from 23 March 2020 to present), therefore the claim that the rate of suicides has increased 200% cannot be corroborated.
Samaritans Official tweet:
The Samaritans echo this finding about the lack of reliable statistical data on suicide rates during the period of lockdown in their responses to many of the individual tweets on the issue:
The Samaratians also provides information about their recommended guidelines on reporting on the issue of suicide safely.
A UK mental health charity, SANE, has reported a 200% increase in calls to its helpline since lockdown began.
While newspapers around the world report experts’s fears that suicides rates will rise during a lockdown period that some of their patients find stressful, there are no figures yet for the UK to suggest whether the suicide rate has increased, decreased, or remained the same.
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