What is the Connection Between Pandemics and Suicides?

Monday 16 November 2020
logo of the National Webinars on Suicide Prevention

Speakers: Simon Hatcher, PhD, Full Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa and Paul Links, PhD, Professor with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University.

Overview of the webinar

The presentation is based on a systematic review of the existing evidence on the potential impact of infectious disease-related public health emergencies on suicide-related outcomes (SRO). After searching and identifying relevant articles eight primary articles and one preprint were ultimately selected for inclusion in the systematic review.

The eight primary studies were published between 1992 and 2017 and examined the effects of epidemics including the Great Influenza Epidemic, Russian influenza, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). The preprint investigated the association between COVID-19 and suicidal thoughts and behaviours in the US.

The studies were of relatively low methodological quality, and with minimal previous evidence, in addition to challenges inherent in studying public health emergencies (i.e. absence of baseline data, lack of experimental controls), we cannot draw a firm conclusion regarding a direct relationship between epidemics and suicide related outcomes.

Evidence exists however to suggest a possible impact of the SARS epidemic on older adult suicide deaths in Hong Kong. More specifically, suicide rates among older adults (particularly women) increased both during and following the epidemic. Although of poorer quality, data from the Great Influenza Pandemic and Russian influenza (1889-1893) also suggest an association with suicide deaths. Furthermore, Ebola infection history and influenza B seropositivity were both associated with attempted suicide and preprint data for the COVID-19 pandemic suggest increases in both suicidal thoughts and attempted suicides. The presentation will update this review, suggest possible mechanisms of action and discuss research strategies to prevent suicide in the time of Covid.

About the National Webinars on Suicide Prevention 2020

This webinar was presented in the context of the National Webinars on Suicide Prevention, on October 28, 2020. This virtual event was co-organized by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP), the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide (AQPS) and the Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues and End-of-Life Practices (CRISE).