COVID 19 & Suicidal Behaviour

COVID-19 & Suicidal Behaviour: The International COVID Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration

It’s now more than 18 months since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 4 million people have lost their lives and 200 million people have been diagnosed with COVID around the globe. Whilst rates have fallen in many high-income countries, there have been recent peaks in a number of countries in Asia (e.g. India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan), S America (e.g. Argentina, Colombia) and Africa (e.g. S Africa, Uganda), reminding us that this is still a global public health crisis. 

When we established the International COVID Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration (ICSPRC) back in April 2020 we had two main aims:  

  • to share public health intelligence about the impact of the pandemic on suicide and suicidal behaviour and  
  • enhance good quality collaborative research on the prevention and management of suicide and suicidal behaviours in relation to the pandemic.  

Since April, our membership has grown to over 120 researchers from 41 countries 

We’re hugely grateful for the brilliant support the IASP team (Jackie Etches, Wendy Cliff and Wendy Orchard) have provided to our monthly webinar programme and website development.   

Our most recent initiative, led by Professors Jane Pirkis (University of Melbourne) and Ann John (Swansea University), has been to obtain data on the early impact of COVID-19 on global suicide rates. Helped by a brilliant team of ECRs (Sangsoo Shin, Marcos Del Pozo-Banos, Vikas Arya) we identified data for twenty-one largely high-income countries. Our analysis (led by Matt Spittal) showed that in the first 4 months of the pandemic, suicide numbers remained largely unchanged or declined when compared with the expected levels based on the pre-pandemic period. Our findings were published in Lancet Psychiatry in April here. Key ongoing uncertainties are the longer term impact of the pandemic on suicide rates as nations experience further waves of infection and as the economic consequences of the pandemic on peoples’ finances, jobs and national economies emerge. Jane and Ann plan to update this work in coming months and hope to investigate whether there are differential impacts by sex, age, and suicide method.  

In view of concerns about the way academic journals and researchers have sometimes produced alarmist press releases and research paper titles accompanying studies of COVID and suicidal behaviour, Dr Duleeka Knipe (Bristol) and a group of ICSPRC colleagues have written to multiple journal editors and publishing houses to advise on safer reporting and publishing, here and YouTube video.

Our other initiatives to include: 

  • A COVID-19 Suicide Research Study Register.  We encourage all researchers working on COVID-19 related studies of suicide and suicidal behaviour to share detail to facilitate collaboration.
  • An editorial in Crisis, led by Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, summarising research considerations in relation to COVID-19. 
  • A series of webinars on COVID-19 related research – to date these have provided situation updates from Australia,  Austria, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, France, India, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, UK and USA. 
  • Advice on questions / survey tools relevant to suicide prevention research in relation to COVID-19. 

Louis Appleby and Rory O’Connor are leading an initiative to identify international data on trends in self harm/suicide attempts during the pandemic. Do get in touch (via Maddeline Mooney), if you have any unpublished data to share with the team.  

Our membership now includes the following countries:Australia; Austria; Bangladesh; Belgium; Brazil; Canada; China; Czech Republic, Denmark; Ecuador; England; France; Ghana; Germany; Hong Kong; India; Iran; Ireland; Israel; Japan; Kenya; Malaysia; Mexico; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nigeria; Northern Ireland; Norway; Pakistan; Peru; Russia; Scotland; Slovenia; South Africa; Spain; Sri Lanka; Sweden; Taiwan; Wales; Uganda; USA 

We invite suicide researchers, particularly from regions currently not represented, to get in touch and join this initiative.

David Gunnell
Chair of ICSPRC Steering Group