This claim is unsubstantiated. There are no official statistics or evidence to support the claim that 33 people died by suicide in Northern Ireland (or any specific area of it) during the first week of September 2020.
There is a claim that 33 people died by suicide in Northern Ireland during the first week of September 2020. The claim has been circulating on different social media platforms—which can be found via searches on Facebook and Twitter—and in doing so, has also taken on a focus on specific areas (some posts are claiming there were 33 deaths by suicide in Belfast during this period, for example).
Variants of this claim also appeared, for example, “35 suicides in one week” published by politician Jim Wells MLA:
A version of the claim (33 deaths by suicide in the period of a week) was also seen in recent weeks to spread on social media in Ireland, which TheJournal.ie covered with a fact check.
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. We have also released a fact check responding to other claims regarding claims of an increase in deaths by suicides during the period of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Data on annual deaths by suicide across the UK are published by ONS. The release for all countries covers 2018 death registrations; data for Northern Ireland and Scotland were unavailable for ONS’s most recent release covering 2019 death registrations.
ONS also published quarterly statistics on deaths by suicide. The most recent release covers the period up to 30 June 2020, and it notes:
All deaths caused by suicide in England are investigated by coroners. Given the length of time it takes to hold an inquest (around five months), we do not currently know the total number of suicides that occurred during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
As our colleagues in Full Fact noted,” [I]t is important to note that these figures show when these deaths were registered, not when they happened.” As ONS explains, data reported in present statistical releases of registration of deaths cannot be used to show deaths by suicide occuring during the COVID-19 pandemic; future releases of annual data will show this information.
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 numbers for deaths by suicide in 2019, in the form of quarterly tables.
As is the case elsewhere in the UK, in Northern Ireland there is a delay in the registration of a death and the determination of the cause of death, with deaths by suicide being determined by a coroner.
None of these official sources of statistics have released data covering the period referenced in these social media claims (i.e. the first week of September 2020). Therefore, the claim regarding the 33 deaths by suicide in Northern Ireland during the first week of September 2020 in Northern Ireland cannot be corroborated.
The Samaritans provide recommended guidelines on reporting on the issue of suicide safely. For support you can call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and Ireland), email [email protected] or visit the Samaritans website for more information.
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