COVID-19’s Shadow On Suicides

Researchers have found that COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in suicide rates in Japan, particularly among young working women.

Asian Scientist Magazine (Dec. 12, 2022) — Almost 700,000 people die by suicide every year globally as reported by the World Health Organization in 2021. The continued presence of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, social isolation, job losses, and other public health, economic and political disruptions the pandemic brought has led to a worrying trend of increasing mental health concerns and suicide rates in many parts of the world.

In Japan, the number of suicides as reported by the BBC in 2015 was at 25,000. Although this has decreased somewhat since then, with the latest data showing an incidence rate of 15.3 for every 100,000 people, this is still a high statistic among highly developed nations.

Researchers from Hokkaido University and Asahikawa Medical University, Hokkaido, Japan conducted an analysis of suicide rates in Japan since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic’s impact on overall suicide rates in the nation. The study was published on The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific.

Led by Dr Eiji Yoshioka, associate professor and lead author of the study, the research team analyzed data of monthly suicide rates recorded from January 2009 to December 2021, comparing pre-pandemic trends and projections to provisional data obtained throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data was then further analyzed according to gender and age group to identify any differences the pandemic had on suicide rates among specific sub-groups.

Researchers discovered that, overall, there was an increase in excess deaths from suicides during the pandemic: 1,208 estimated excess deaths for men and 1,825 estimated excess deaths for women between April 2020 and December 2021. Although these figures are not statistically significant, this is still a concerning increase as the data suggest an increase in suicide rates during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Researchers also discovered that incidences of suicide were higher among women compared to men. Specifically, the highest incidences of excess death were in women between 30-39 years (421 excess deaths), followed by women between 60-69 years (396 excess deaths).

“Our results show that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on trends in suicide rates in Japan, specifically in women and in younger age groups,” said Dr Sharon Hanley, one of the co-authors of the study. The highest incidences of suicide among the Japanese population were women who were of young, working age.

Japan’s declaration of national emergency and strict lockdowns during the beginning and the height of the pandemic forced many working age adults to stay home. In some cases, many working adults were left jobless as companies began mass layoffs.

In a nation where strong cultural and gender stereotypes contribute to large disparities in labor participation and pay for women, this further exacerbated the risk of suicides among working women as highlighted in the study.

“Governments and other agencies need to identify and provide appropriate additional support to socio-economically vulnerable subgroups of the population during the pandemic,” said Hanley.

Yoshioka, lead author of the study, stressed that “the COVID-19 pandemic is still evolving, continued vigilance and close monitoring of suicide mortality rates as well as the mental health of the population remains a priority.”


Editor’s note: Suicides are preventable. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out to suicide prevention helplines or contact a counselor near you.

Source: Hokkaido University; Image: Unsplash

The article can be found at: Yoshioka et al. (2022), Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates in Japan through December 2021: An interrupted time series analysis.

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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