Increase in registered suicide rate after pandemic inquest delays, ONS says

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The rate of registered suicides in England and Wales has risen to pre-pandemic levels following disruption and delays to coroners’ inquests during 2020, figures show.

There were 5,583 suicides registered in 2021 – equivalent to a rate of 10.7 deaths per 100,000 people, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This is consistent with rates in 2018 and 2019, and is significantly higher than the 2020 rate of 10.0 deaths per 10,000 people.

The number of suicides dropped in the year the pandemic swept through the UK, which the ONS said was likely driven by a fall in male suicides and delays in death registrations.

The latest figures include deaths that occurred in 2020 and were registered the following year, and the ONS said they provide evidence that the suicide rate did not increase because of the pandemic.

James Tucker, head of analysis in the ONS’s health and life events division, said: “We saw a significant increase in the rate of deaths registered as suicide in 2021.

“This increase was the result of a lower number of suicides registered in 2020, due to the disruption to coroners’ inquests caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2021 suicide rate was similar to the pre-pandemic rates in 2018 and 2019.

“The latest available evidence also shows that suicide rates did not increase as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is contrary to some speculation at the time.”

Around three-quarters (4,129) of the suicides registered in 2021 involved males, which is consistent with long-term trends.

Men aged between 50 to 54 years had the highest rate (22.7 deaths per 100,000), while for women it was highest in those aged 45-49 (7.8 deaths per 100,000).

Women and girls aged between 10 and 24, and women aged 75 years and over, had the lowest suicide rate (3.6 deaths per 100,000 females).

The ONS said the rate in women and girls under 24 saw its biggest annual increase since records began in 1981 – from 2.5 deaths to 3.6 deaths per 100,000 females.

Rates among young females have been steadily increasing for several years, it added.

London had the lowest suicide rate of any region in England (6.6 deaths per 100,000), while it was highest in the North East (14.1 deaths per 100,000).

The North East, North West, Yorkshire and The Humber and the South West had statistically significantly higher suicide rates compared with England as a whole, the ONS said.

In 2021 the rate in London was the lowest since records began.

Jacqui Morrissey, assistant director of research & influencing at Samaritans, said: “These latest figures are just more worrying evidence that not enough is being done to drive down our high suicide rates, which remain at levels similar to four years ago.

“Females under 24 have shown the biggest increase in suicide since records began, which is particularly concerning given our research has shown that young people are likely to bear the brunt of the financial turmoil brought about by the pandemic, now made worse by the cost of living crisis.

“Samaritans wants to see a new national suicide prevention plan, led by the Government, that will achieve the lowest national suicide rate in history – anything less will simply be accepting failure.”

Lourdes Colclough, head of suicide prevention at Rethink Mental Illness, called the increased rates among young women “particularly worrying”.

She said: “Suicide is a complex issue, but we must recognise the role we all have to play in suicide prevention, including government, and crucially the need to tackle many of the risk factors for suicide such as debt, financial stress and housing instability, which are affecting more people as the cost of living crisis deepens.”

Wendy Robinson, head of services at the Campaign Against Living Miserably, said society must be “proactive” in addressing known risk factors.

She said: “It’s about all of us, as a society and as a country, being dedicated to making sure those risk factors are reduced – investing in education, welfare, affordable housing and ensuring everyone has access to mental health support before they’re at crisis point.”

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the charity SANE, said: “Middle-aged men remain the most at risk, but the numbers of young girls and women taking their own lives is deeply alarming.”

If you are struggling to cope, call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI) or contact other sources of support, such as those listed on the NHS’s help for suicidal thoughts webpage.

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