In Austria, suicides have fallen by 4% since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, thereby consolidating the pre-2019 trend. An international study now shows that this pattern is similar to the global suicide trends during the initial phase of the coronavirus pandemic up until the end of October. "Figures are now also available from Statistik Austria for the whole of 2020 and these confirm the results of the study," says Thomas Niederkrotenthaler from the Center for Public Health (Department of Social and Preventive Medicine), who took part in the study on behalf of MedUni Vienna along with Paul Plener, Head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. A total of around 70 scientists in 21 countries were involved in the study. On average, the trends were found to be similar in all countries investigated.
The experts from MedUni Vienna attribute the fact that the suicide rate has not risen, despite the crisis and rising levels of mental stress - for example, rising levels of depression and anxiety were found, amongst other things - to the rapid implementation of social, health-promoting and other supportive measures. In Austria, these include, for example, the option for adults to be prescribed psychotherapy on their health insurance and to be offered this online, the expansion of telephone crisis intervention services, targeted support programmes in the labour market and increased social solidarity due to neighbourhood assistance schemes within the community. Similar effects have also been reported in the period immediately following environmental disasters or terror attacks, for example.
However, as Niederkrotenthaler points out, there are now signs of "fatigue" within society and these must be carefully monitored "to ensure that the high level of emotional stress does not feed through into suicides, either now or when the pandemic subsides". It is therefore necessary to establish long-term support programmes immediately, for example in the labour market, as well as health-promoting measures. For example, people are currently experiencing a lot of stress, especially people in the healthcare professions, those with existing mental-health issues and socially marginalised groups, as well as schoolchildren and students, and this will require the provision of long-term support.
As regards children and adolescents, Paul Plener points out that, globally, it is young people aged between 15 and 25 who are exhibiting the highest rates of mental stress during the pandemic. For this reason, it is important to pay particular attention to the expansion of psychosocial care provision: "When considering children and adolescents, you cannot ignore the families they grow up in, and so the rising rates of unemployment and addiction among adults is a phenomenon that inevitably also impacts the mental health of children within the family environment," point out the experts.
The study was conducted as part of the "International Covid-19 Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration" (ICSPRC) in 16 so-called high-income countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Croatia, England, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, South Korea, Spain, USA) and 5 middle-income countries and regions (Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Russia) and published in the leading journal "The Lancet Psychiatry".