Rise in Scots reporting suicidal thoughts during Covid-19 pandemic, study finds

New research has found an increase in the number of Scots thinking about suicide during the coronavirus pandemic.

The second wave of the Scottish Covid-19 Mental Health Tracker survey, which was carried out between mid July and mid August, a time when Covid-19 restrictions had been eased, showed 13.3% had thought about taking their life in the last week.

That is up from the 9.6% recorded in the first wave of the research, which took place over the period between May 28 and June 21.

The report, published by the Scottish Government, said this was in line with similar research which “found an increase in suicidal thoughts over waves”.

And it added that “most other indicators of mental health” improved in the second wave of the research.

The second wave report showed that nearly a quarter (24%) of people surveyed reported depression symptoms which may need treatment, with 16.9% reporting anxiety at a similar level.

These rates “did not significantly change” between wave one of the research and the second wave.

More than 1,700 people took part in the second wave of the research, which is being carried out to consider the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of Scots.

The proportion reporting suicidal thoughts increased for both men and women, with the number of males suffering these in the week prior to the survey going from 10.2% in wave one to 16.3% in wave two – while for females the proportion rose from 9.6% to 10.5%

There was also an increased number reporting such thoughts amongst those with pre-existing mental health conditions with this increasing from 25.2% to 36.7% between the two waves of the study.

The second wave survey also showed 17.1% of respondents who were key workers reporting suicidal thoughts, compared to 12.5% of non-key workers.

Overall the research showed the number of people reporting poor or very poor mental health fell between the two waves, from 17.9% to 15.4%

Meanwhile the number of people describing their mental health as “very good, good or fair” increased from 82.1% to 84.5%

Rachel Cackett, Samaritans Scotland executive director said the research provided “valuable insight into the ongoing impact that the coronavirus pandemic is having on mental health and wellbeing and how this is changing over time”.

She added: “While we are encouraged to see some signs of improvement, including a reduction in levels of loneliness and distress between the first and second waves of this research, we are deeply concerned to see levels of suicidal ideation increasing over this period.

“However, it is important to remember that a rise in people reporting suicidal thoughts does not mean a rise in suicides is inevitable.

“Suicide is preventable and these results demonstrate that it’s more important than ever that effective support is available for those who need it most and preventative efforts are focused on those at greatest risk.”

She stressed: “Anyone who is struggling to cope can contact us for free, day or night by calling 116 123 or by emailing [email protected]

Meanwhile mental health minister Clare Haughey said: “This research provides Scotland-specific data on how the mental health effects of the pandemic are changing over time.

“That will help us to target support where and when it is needed most.

“Mental health and suicide prevention are key priorities for the Scottish Government, and since the outbreak we have invested over £6 million in initiatives such as expanding the NHS24’s Mental Health Hub to a 24/7 service and enhancing its Breathing Space helpline and web support services.

“We also made the Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) programme available on a national basis, through NHS 24.

“Our Transition and Recovery Plan, published in response to the mental health impacts of Covid-19, sets out over 100 actions we are taking to address those additional pressures on the population’s mental health, brought about by the pandemic.”

The minister continued: “Every suicide is a tragedy that has far-reaching effects on those left behind.

“Our efforts to support people who are at risk of suicide are particularly important at this time, when we know that the economic and social consequences of the pandemic are putting significant additional strain on many people.

“In addition to our ongoing suicide prevention work, we are supporting the additional actions recommended by our National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group to respond to the pandemic.

“The group’s lived experience panel ensures that those with personal experience of suicide are at the heart of our decision making.”

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