Preliminary data suggests fewer suicides are happening in Alberta during the pandemic.
But just in case anyone credits COVID-19 for providing some good news, some mental health workers are saying it’s way too early to tell.
Christine Stewart, executive-director of Red Deer’s Canadian Mental Health Association, has heard that the true pandemic effect likely won’t be seen for 18 to 24 months.
That’s the typical lag time between a negative event, such as an economic downturn, and when impacted people get distraught enough to take their lives, Stewart added.
“The jury’s still out,” agreed Mara Grunau, executive-director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention in Calgary. She cautioned about drawing any conclusions based on preliminary data, when it could take up to two years to get final suicide numbers from provincial coroners.
University of British Columbia psychiatrist Dr. Tyler Black hit the news earlier this month when he presented figures that shows suicide rates are down in 2020 in several provinces.
According to information Black obtained from Alberta’s medical examiners from January to November of 2020, Alberta’s suicide rate fell by 7.2 per cent.
Black noticed a similar downward trend in B.C. (suicides were down by 7.1 per cent from January to August), Saskatchewan (which is anticipated to show about 25 per cent decline in the last year) and Nova Scotia (suicides fell by 8.9 per cent from January to September 2020).
These declines seem counter-intuitive, since opponents of pandemic lockdowns have long argued these are negatively impacting people’s mental health and possibly causing more suicides.
Black believes it isn’t happening. Instead, he suggested the current battle against the coronavirus could be compared to the Second World War, when suicide rates were also down.
The reason was attributed to the collective feeling that developed when citizens banded together against a common foe.
Grunau admitted this “come together effect” could be a factor — but she maintains it’s too early to make a judgment about the pandemic since some of its more dire financial and social impacts are only now starting to be felt.
She stressed that no suicide is inevitable.
Grunau encourages everyone to make more effort during this time of isolation to do more than text loved ones. The sound of a caring human voice, or walking with a friend outdoors could make all the difference when someone feels disconnected or depressed, she added.