How many people committed suicide in Israel during corona?

Between March 2020 and February 2021, there was a decrease in monthly suicide attempts.

 How did COVID affect Israel's suicide rates? (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
How did COVID affect Israel's suicide rates? (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Suicide Awareness Week was this past week and if you thought that the pandemic, which brought with it loneliness and closure, would actually increase the suicide rate, you were wrong. So why are researchers actually worried about the phenomenon?

Despite the isolation and social closure we’ve experienced since March 2020 until the period when the third wave of the pandemic ended in February 2021, there was a decrease in monthly suicide attempts. Instead of an expected 24 suicide attempts per month, about 17 suicide attempts per month were actually recorded, according to a new study conducted at the University of Haifa.

Initially this seems positive, but it can actually be concerning. 

"The results of the study predict that the suicide rate in Israel will rise again after health restrictions are lifted," explain research editors Prof. Stephen Levine of Haifa University and Yael Travis-Lumer from the Technion - Israel Institute of Science.

Eight hundred thousand people worldwide die each year from suicide. Suicide attempts are related to family, economic and social problems. According to the researchers, the epidemic is a complex event with bio-psychological characteristics that can cause widespread social trauma and therefore could have been expected to affect suicide attempts.

In a study published in the prestigious journal Psychological Medicine, the researchers, Levin from the Department of Community Mental Health at the University of Haifa, Prof. Arad Kodesh from Meuhedet Health Services and the Department of Community Mental Health at the University of Haifa, Prof. Yair Goldberg and research student ravis-Lom from the Faculty of Industry and Management and Dr. Sophia Frangou from Mt. Sinai in New York characterize the connection between the corona epidemic and the rate of suicide attempts that cause hospitalization in Israel.

The researchers stressed that these were suicide attempts that led to the need for hospitalization and receiving medical treatment. The study collected data from 852,223 members of Meuhedet aged 15 and over, between January 2013 and February 2021. 

"When a patient arrives at the emergency room, and it’s verified that there was a suicide attempt, this information is given to the health fund," the researchers explained.

The study results show that during the three closures, there was a reversal in the trend of suicide attempts in after many years of an increase in the suicide rate in Israel. During the pandemic, between March 2020 and February 2021, there was a decrease in the rate of suicide attempts compared to the period before the epidemic started.

According to the findings, the number of monthly suicide attempts in Israel increased linearly between 2013-2020, and in the months before corona the attempts reached a peak of about 21 suicide attempts per month. According to expectations of the continuation of this trend, the maximum predicted suicide attempt during the corona period was supposed to increase to about 24 attempts per month, but in practice a maximum number of about 17 suicide attempts was reported. Overall, during the entire corona period, an average decrease of about 37% was observed in the number of suicide attempts.

"The expectation was that the upward trend in the suicide rate would continue during corona but this didn’t materialize. It’s possible that being forbidden to travel reduced the chances of suicide attempts, although people were isolated and felt depression or loneliness," the researchers said. 

Another possibility for a decrease in the suicide rate according to researchers is that we respond to the epidemic according to a psychological model called the "disaster model.”

According to this model people show a positive attitude in the initial stage of a disaster, concentrating less on themselves and more on responding to the disaster. 

Then, a state of social unity is created and the suicide rate decreases accordingly. 

"However, the results of our study predict that the number of suicide attempts will rise again after the corona restrictions are lifted, the researchers added. “We therefore see the removal of restrictions as a kind of warning sign that should make decision-makers understand that they must implement measures and programs to prevent suicides. 

“While there has been a decline in the number of suicide attempts during corona, there is a high chance that this number will rise in the near future," they concluded.