Warning about negative mental health effects of the pandemic

Professor of Public Mental Health advises vigilance, in light of the long-term negative impacts of previous epidemics
Warning about negative mental health effects of the pandemic

Prof Ella Arensman, Professor of Public Mental Health at UCC, said that although there was no rise in suicide in the first months of Covid-19, we must be vigilant regarding long-term negative impacts of the pandemic.

Suicides did not increase significantly in the first months of the pandemic, according to the first worldwide study of its kind since March 2020.

However, Ireland's first Professor of Public Mental Health, one of the authors of the study, says we need to keep “vigilant”.

Ella Arensman, University College Cork Professor of Public Mental Health, said the study underlines the importance of prioritising access to real-time suicide mortality data at national level in Ireland.

"In most of the countries in this study, there were no indications of an increase in suicide during Covid-19 wave one,” Professor Arensman, who is also chief scientist with the National Suicide Research Foundation, said: 

We have to remain vigilant as evidence from previous epidemics and pandemics has shown long-term negative impacts on mental health and suicidal behaviour. 

It is the first study to examine suicides occurring around the world during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It finds that in high-income and upper-middle-income countries, suicide numbers have remained largely unchanged or declined in the early months of the pandemic, compared with expected levels.

Governments 'should be poised to respond'

However, the authors stress that governments must remain vigilant as the longer-term mental health and economic effects of the pandemic unfolds, and should be poised to respond if the situation changes.

The authors of the study published in 'The Lancet Psychiatry' warn that, while it gathers the best available evidence, it is only a snapshot of the first few months of the crisis, and its effects on suicide may not present immediately. 
The authors of the study published in 'The Lancet Psychiatry' warn that, while it gathers the best available evidence, it is only a snapshot of the first few months of the crisis, and its effects on suicide may not present immediately. 

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, looked at the numbers of suicides in 21 countries between April 1 and July 31, 2020, and compared these with trends in the previous one to four years.

The authors say that, while this study provides the best available evidence on the pandemic’s effects on suicide so far, it only provides a snapshot of the first few months of the pandemic and effects on suicide might not necessarily occur immediately.

Lead author, Professor Jane Pirkis, director of the Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, Australia, said: “We need to continue to monitor the data and be alert to any increases in suicide.

Policymakers should recognise the importance of high-quality, timely data to support suicide prevention efforts, and should work to mitigate suicide risk factors associated with Covid-19, such as the heightened levels of stress and financial difficulties that some people may experience as a result of the pandemic.

“Increasing mental health services and suicide prevention programmes, and providing financial safety nets may help to prevent the possible longer-term detrimental effects of the pandemic on suicide.” 

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