From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been overwhelming concern that people’s mental health has declined, with many speculating that as a result, suicide-related deaths have increased. This concern has been exacerbated by the media and created a stigma around the COVID-19 pandemic and suicide.
Although there has been an increase in psychological distress and the use of mental health services in Australia since the start of the pandemic, data suggests that there hasn’t been an increase in the number of suicide-related deaths in 2020 & 2021 compared to previous years, in fact, they are the lowest we have seen in 5 years.
Why might this be?
Stressors commonly associated with pandemics including loss of social connectedness, loneliness, financial stress, family breakdowns, health concerns, and job loss are all risk factors associated with suicide. While the pandemic increased the likelihood of risk factors associated with suicide occurring in a high number of people, research is suggesting that protective factors may have reduced the impact that these risk factors have on people. Let’s have a closer look at some of the protective factors that can help explain why suicide-related deaths haven’t increased since the pandemic started.
- Stronger social bonds – People are experiencing increased social connectedness through a perception of shared experiences and worries with others.
- Economic support provided by the Government – Such as JobKeeper and the Coronavirus supplement reduced the financial stress people were experiencing. As a result, Australia has experienced decreased rates of poverty and unemployment which are actually less than rates prior to the pandemic.
- Increased access to mental health services – We have seen an increase in Medicare rebates allowing for double the number of mental health sessions accessible per year, as well as telehealth becoming a supported way of accessing services.
- Lockdown and limited access to means – As a result of being in lockdown people had reduced access to means for suicide, and the inability to easily access means. This would have increased the time people had to engage in protective factors such as accessing support and engaging with strategies.
Although suicide rates have not increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, any suicide-related death is a tragedy and is a reminder that mental health should be at the forefront of our minds.
What can you do if you’re feeling distressed as a result of the pandemic?
- Talk to someone – Sometimes just talking to someone and getting your thoughts out of your head can make you feel better. They might be able to provide you support or suggest where you can go to access additional support.
- Connect with friends and family – Reach out to your friends and family, have an online games night, go for a walk at your local park. Connecting with friends and family allows you to talk and feel connected, reducing feelings of isolation.
- Do something you enjoy – Go online shopping, bake a cake, or give your friend a call. Doing things you enjoy will increase your mood, and give you a sense of purpose.
- Exercise – Go for a walk, do some yoga, swim at the beach. Engaging in exercise increases your endorphins which make you feel good.
- Access mental health supports – Talk to your GP about how you are feeling, and get a referral to a mental health professional. They will be able to talk to you and provide you with strategies to deal with how you are feeling.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please contact a mental health hotline, or if it is an emergency ring 000.
If you or someone you know would like support, book a session with one of our team please contact Mind Up on (03) 9327 2769.