What your doctor is reading on Medscape.com:
APRIL 23, 2020 — A global group of suicide experts is urging governments around the world to take action to prevent a possible jump in suicide rates because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In a commentary published online April 21 in Lancet Psychiatry, members of the International COVID-19 Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration warn that suicide rates are likely to rise as the pandemic spreads and its ensuing long-term effects on the general population, economy, and vulnerable groups emerge.
“Preventing suicide therefore needs urgent consideration. The response must capitalize on, but extend beyond, general mental health policies and practices,” the experts write.
The COVID-19 collaboration was started by David Gunnell, MBChB, PhD, University of Bristol, United Kingdom, and includes 42 members with suicide expertise from around the world.
“We’re an ad-hoc grouping of international suicide prevention researchers, research leaders, and members of larger international suicide prevention organizations. We include specialists in public health, psychiatry, psychology, and other clinical disciplines,” Gunnell told Medscape Medical News.
“Through this comment piece we hope to share our ideas and experiences about best practice, and ask others working in the field of suicide prevention at a regional, national, and international level to share our intervention and surveillance/data collection recommendations with relevant policy makers,” he added.
Lessons From The Past
During times of crisis, people with existing mental health disorders may suffer worsening symptoms, whereas others may develop new mental health problems, especially depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the group notes.
There is some evidence that suicide increased in the US during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and among older people in Hong Kong during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak.
An increase in suicide related to COVID-19 is not inevitable provided preventive action is prompt, the group notes.
In their article, the group offers several potential public health responses to mitigate suicide risk associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clear care pathways for those who are suicidal
Remote or digital assessments for patients currently under the care of a mental health professional
Staff training to support new ways of working
Increased support for mental health helplines
Providing easily accessible grief counselling for those who have lost a loved one to the virus
Financial safety nets and labor market programs
Dissemination of evidence-based online interventions.