Rates of suspected suicides in England did not rise following the first coronavirus lockdown, according to analysis of early figures.
Researchers from the University of Manchester analysed data from English Real Time Surveillance (RTS) systems in areas covering a population of around 13 million.
The systems anonymously record suspected suicides as they occur, which allows for early monitoring of figures before inquests take place.
According to the figures, there were 121.3 cases per month between April and October 2020, compared with 125.7 per month between January and March 2020.
And the researchers found no difference when comparing the rates to the same months in 2019.
The authors say the findings add to international evidence that suicide rates have not risen due to the pandemic and lockdowns, despite studies finding higher levels of distress.
They caution that use of the RTS in this way is new, the findings may change and more work is needed before it can provide a national picture.
They note that there may be a “genuine social cohesion effect at the time of external crises”, acknowledging that suicide rates fell during both world wars.
But they say no suicide rate is acceptable and it is essential to keep focusing on suicide prevention as it is too early to see some of the longer-term impacts of the pandemic, such as ongoing economic adversity.
Study author Louis Appleby, Professor of Psychiatry and director of the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH) at the University of Manchester, said: “We didn’t find an increase in suicide rates in England in the months post-lockdown, although we know from surveys and calls to charities that the pandemic has made our mental health worse.
“To be clear, no suicide rate – whether high or low, rising or falling – is acceptable, and our conclusions at this stage need to be cautious as these early findings may change.
“There may still be variations between demographic groups or geographical areas. After all, the impact of Covid-19 itself has not been uniform across communities.”
Study author Nav Kapur, Professor of Psychiatry and Population Health at the University of Manchester, said: “How can we square our finding that suicide rates have not risen despite greater reported distress?
“Suicide is complex, and rates do not simply follow levels of mental disorder.
“There may be a genuine social cohesion effect at the time of external crises – we’ve seen this in data from suicide rates around the time of the two world wars, suicide rates decreased and there is this idea that societies pull together when there’s an external threat.”
The study is published in the Lancet Regional Health – Europe journal.