Data shows no COVID-19 spike in suicide

Ben McKay
·2-min read

New data from NSW confirms a trend from Victoria - the COVID-19 pandemic has not caused additional suicides.

The first report from the health ministry's 'suicide monitoring system' shows 673 people from NSW took their own life in the first nine months of the year.

This compares with 672 for the same period last year.

"While every death by suicide is a tragedy, we need to underline that there has not been an overall spike in numbers in a year that has delivered so many challenges," NSW Mental Health Minister Bronnie Taylor said.

The state government is spending $87 million over three years towards suicide prevention initiatives, including the new system which will send up-to-date data to health and support services so they can respond appropriately.

In August, an investigation from Victoria's Coroners Court showed 466 Victorians had died by suicide in 2020 compared with 468 people during the same period last year.

The data is perhaps counterintuitive, with many holding concerns that COVID-19 would see a rise in self-harm, owing to worsening health and economic situations.

Nieves Murray, the chief executive of Suicide Prevention Australia, warned in September the mental health of Australians could worsen.

"International research shows as economies go down, suicide rates go up, and Australia has just entered its worst recession in nearly a century," Ms Murray said.

"The longer COVID-19 and its economic and social impacts run, the bigger the risk of a hidden 'third wave' of suicide deaths not recorded in the official virus figures."

According to the NSW data, those fears have yet to materialise, which Ms Murray said could be attributed to government "protective measures".

"These include the NSW government's significant investment in scaling up mental health and suicide prevention services, coupled with the Commonwealth government's support for JobKeeper and JobSeeker," she said.

Ms Murray welcomed the new reporting system, saying it would "provide our policymakers with more information to determine what works and what needs to change in suicide prevention".

Roughly 3000 Australians take their own lives each year, with three times as many males killing themselves than females, and two times as many Indigenous Australians than non-Indigenous.

Suicide Prevention Australia's first annual report lists employment, social isolation and relationship breakdown as the chief drivers behind suicide attempts.

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