Suicide in decline but experts warn of knock-on effect of Covid

Ljubljana – Death by suicide has been declining in Slovenia for two decades and the number of suicides fell again last year. Experts say this may be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, but they also warn the consequences may yet reflect on mental health and suicide statistics.

Suicide remains one of the 20 leading causes of death globally with more than 700,000 people taking their life every year. To raise awareness about the issue World Suicide Prevention Day is marked every year on 10 September.

This year’s slogan Creating Hope Through Action will remain a recurring theme in the coming years in a bid to increase confidence that everyone can create hope for those in distress through action, the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) says.

Last year 369 people in Slovenia took their life, 295 men and 74 women, which compares to 394 in 2019. “Considering the Covid year, the figure is encouraging,” Saška Roškar, a psychologist with NIJZ, said, adding that other countries observed a similar trend.

Suicidal tendencies as a rule decline during social crises when the threat such as war or virus comes from the outside. “The pandemic has spread throughout the world and it’s possible we had the feeling we were all on the same boat,” said Roškar.

In that sense the pandemic created a sense of being together despite being physically apart.

However, Roškar also says that an eye should be kept on the statistics as the real impact of the pandemic would show yet after a while, which will reflect with a delay on the population’s mental health.

The Andrej Marušič Institute, which has been conducting surveys on mental health for more than 10 years to be able to asses how serious distress is among various age and professional groups, has detected a decline in mental health among the youth this year.

“There’s still a high proportion of those who have thought of suicide. Talking with secondary school students we have seen how the pandemic negatively affected their lives,” said Vita Poštuvan from the institute.

The institute has held workshops for youth and the elderly, to reduce their sense of being lonely, similarly as other NGOs.

Ozara Slovenija say the pandemic has increased the risk of various mental health issues, so they are focusing their activities on preventing depression and helping those who have already developed symptoms.

Anamarija Zavasnik, the head of the Slovenian Suicide Prevention Association, says the number of people seeking advice has been increasing year in year out: “We have helped more than 18,000 clients with almost 40,000 advice sessions in 15 years of work.”

When comparing the first and second waves of Covid-19, Zavasnik says the distress is deepening in proportion with the length of the pandemic.