Irish experts are among a global panel warning the coronavirus pandemic could lead to a spike in suicide rates and that mental health supports are needed in tandem with efforts to fight the spread of Covid-19.
In an international consensus statement on suicide risk and prevention during Covid-19, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, the group said: "Suicide is likely to become a more pressing concern as the pandemic spreads and has longer-term effects on the general population, the economy, and vulnerable groups."
The panel said the mental health effects of the pandemic will be "profound" and "there are suggestions that suicide rates will rise, although this is not inevitable".
One of the authors is Professor Ella Arensman, chief scientist with the National Suicide Research Foundation here.
She warned that current restrictions, while difficult, are preferable to lifting them prematurely and people then having to undergo a second and subsequent lockdowns.
"If there is a second wave or a relapse phase I would be even more concerned about the severe impact on people with vulnerabilities," Prof Arensman said.
"What we hear is ’’a few more weeks I can deal with this, but not months’’."
The expert group refers to those made even more vulnerable by the pandemic, including those suffering domestic abuse, and also mentions the loss of employment and financial stressors as increasing pressure on mental health as well as the possibility that support services "might be stretched beyond capacity due to surges in calls and reductions in volunteers".
The group also said "social isolation, entrapment, and loneliness contribute to suicide risk and are likely to increase during the pandemic, particularly for bereaved individuals.
It also warned of "irresponsible media reporting of suicide" and added: "Comprehensive responses should be informed by enhanced surveillance of Covid-19-related risk factors contributing to suicidal behaviours."
Prof Arensman said it is too early to show what impact Covid-19 has had on mental health in Ireland but said there are already indications from other countries of an increase in their suicide rates, meaning the government and health authorities here need to adopt a "proactive approach" regarding mental health.
"If these priorities are not being addressed in a timely manner we are facing excess mortality from suicide," she said.
The international group statement said of these "unprecedented times": "Mental health consequences are likely to be present for longer and peak later than the actual pandemic."
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