When COVID-19 hit, many feared that suicide rates would spike. However, fresh data has found that they didn’t, with almost as many people dying by suicide in 2020 as in 2019 in Malta.
A similar trend has emerged across the globe. In a time of financial turmoil, uncertainty and isolation, Malta has bucked the trend. Lovin Malta spoke to clinical psychology practitioner Kelsey Renaud, who has researched the issue extensively, to try to answer this question.
According to police, 22 people died by suicide in 2020. Nearly 70% of that figure were men. That’s one less person than 2019, which saw 23 people die this way, the overwhelming majority by males.
Renaud believes an increased focus on mental health in 2020 could have helped people cope with suicidal thoughts.
“While we have seen a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, and fatigue; people are resilient. We can also hypothesise that in the past year there may have been more awareness on the importance of mental health, a focus on self-care, more openness to talk about distressing emotions, and a sense of community cohesion,” she told Lovin Malta.
Despite this, research on the impact of COVID-19 by the Richmond Foundation shows that the pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental health. According to their surveys, while fear and anxiety have diminished since March 2020, those feelings have been replaced by depression, low moods and tiredness. In other words, “pandemic fatigue” has kicked in.
“While the pandemic is somewhat shared, everyone’s experience is unique. Some people may have felt a sense of togetherness during the pandemic, while others may have become more isolated. Another important consideration is that the impact of trauma is not always felt immediately. It is often felt later, even years after the event has ended,” Renaud added.
All in all, Renaud said, suicide is an extremely complex phenomenon and it’s “too early to make any conclusions”.
“We would need to study the multiple interrelating factors of the individuals who died by suicide in order to get a better understanding of the situation, and not just look at the numbers,” she explained.
Renaud has conducted a study on suicide in a 24-year period between 1995 and 2018 in the Maltese islands. She found that there has been an upward suicide trend, but this includes years of ups and downs, as statistical trends are not based on one year alone.
“So far, research on suicide risk factors in the Maltese islands has identified multiple risk factors such as demographics, amongst others, but not specific events. Therefore it is too early to make any conclusions,” she said.
Vaccines against the virus have armed people with a symbol of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. However, the impacts of the pandemic will continue to be felt much after herd immunity is achieved.
Malta’s Mental Health Commissioner stressed that the true effects of the pandemic are still unravelling. The coming months, he said, will be critical for mental health.
As a country, mental health needs to be a priority. We need to continue to raise awareness on the needs of persons under undue stress, anxiety and depression caused by the social, economic and health impacts of COVID-19,” Dr John Cachia told this newsroom.
“Mental health challenges constitute what is increasingly being recognised as the second and parallel pandemic which may have profound effects on mental wellbeing for several years to come,” he finished.
If you’re experiencing any emotional or psychological difficulties, contact Richmond helpline on 1770, FSWS support line on 179 or speak to a professional online at kellimni.com. All these resources are free and available 24/7.
If you are in a crisis or in danger, call 112 directly.
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