New research warns that the rapid rise in unemployment amid the coronavirus pandemic could coincide with a spike in suicide rates in the United States and Canada. The findings have been published in the journals Psychiatry Research and World Psychiatry.
(If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or follow this link to their online chat.)
“I have provided care for more than 20 years for people with mood disorders who are very often experiencing suicidal thinking. We are in need to prevent suicide,” said Roger S. McIntyre, the lead author of both studies and a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto.
“The link between unemployment, economic shock and suicide is highly replicated in population health. The anxiety of the virus with the economic shock, along with the physical distancing, is an unprecedented assault on mental health. By conducting this analysis, we are able to get ahead of the curve of mental illness and suicide.”
Based on previous suicide and unemployment data, the authors of the study were able to estimate the number of excess suicides likely to occur in the wake of increased unemployment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2020 to 2021, they project 418 to 2,114 excess suicides in Canada and 3,235 to 8,164 excess suicides in the United States.
“COVID-19 is not only a threat to your physical health, it is a tremendous threat to your mental health,” McIntyre told PsyPost. The findings also highlight that “economic security is critical to preserve mental health.”
But there are many factors that could influence the suicide rate. While social isolation and anxiety could make the situation even worse, interventions could help prevent excess suicides.
“Our analysis is a projection. If we can get ahead of the curve by providing timely mental health care and helping people who are in need, we should be able to prevent many of the projected suicides in our forecast,” McIntyre said.
“It is critical that we not only flatten the curve of viral transmission, but also that we prevent the curve of mental illness. As the World Health Organization says, health is physical health and mental health and social well-being.”
The studies, “Projected increases in suicide in Canada as a consequence of COVID-19” and “Preventing suicide in the context of the COVID‐19 pandemic“, were authored by Roger S. McIntyre and Yena Lee.