Fall in registered suicides amid pandemic inquest delays – ONS

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Registered suicides in England fell in 2020 as inquests were delayed during the coronavirus pandemic, provisional figures show.

Some 4,902 suicides were registered across the country last year – giving a provisional rate of 9.9 suicide deaths per 100,000 people, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This is a fall from 2019, when the rate was 10.8 suicide deaths per 100,000 people.

The ONS said the fall “most likely reflects delays to coroner inquests, because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as opposed to a genuine decrease in suicide”.

The 2020 figures are provisional and will be finalised in late 2021.

All deaths by suicide are investigated by coroners, with deaths usually registered around five to six months after they occur due to the length of time it takes to hold an inquest.

Of the suicides registered in 2020, more than half (51.2%) occurred that year.

Some 3,674 involved males, and 1,228 females.

Between April and June 2020, the provisional suicide rate fell by 36.1% compared with the same period in 2019.

The number of registered suicides in this quarter was the lowest since 2001.

This is most likely to be due to the impact of the pandemic on the coroner’s service, such as delays to inquests as the service adapted to social distancing measures, the ONS said.

The number of registered suicides increased in the second half of 2020, most likely due to inquests resuming, the ONS said.

These returned to levels seen in previous years.

The median delay between a death occurring and being registered increased to 177 days in the last quarter of 2020, up from 172 days in the same period in 2019.

It was highest in the East Midlands – 254 days, up from 206 days in the same period in 2019.

Dr Elizabeth Scowcroft, head of research and evaluation at Samaritans, said: “While on the surface it is encouraging to see suicide rates haven’t risen compared to the same period in previous years, these figures must not be taken as the full picture of the situation.

“The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the reporting process, causing delays.

“The data released today is more likely to reflect these delays than a genuine reduction in suicides. This further demonstrates the need for a comprehensive, national system of real-time suicide reporting – something Samaritans has long been calling for.”

She added: “The profound effect that the pandemic is having on mental health and wellbeing means there is no room for complacency, and with recessions and unemployment having clear links to suicide, the Government must continue to put suicide prevention at the heart of its wider pandemic recovery plans.”

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “Every suicide is a tragedy and suicide prevention is an absolute priority for local government.

“Every council has a suicide prevention plan in place, working closely with the voluntary and community sector, schools, railway operators, businesses, hospitals and the police to prevent suicide and help those affected by it.”

Anyone struggling to cope can call Samaritans free of charge on 116 123 (UK and Ireland), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website.

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