Coronavirus: Fewer suicides in Saskatchewan during pandemic than year prior

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WATCH: According to data from the Saskatchewan government, there were fewer suicides in the province during the novel coroanvirus pandemic than over the same time period the year prior – May 16, 2020

There have been fewer suicides in Saskatchewan during the novel coronavirus pandemic than during the same time period in 2019.

Data from the Saskatchewan government shows 37 suicides between March 1 and May 4 in 2019 and 26 people killed themselves during that time in 2020.

A mental health expert from the provincial branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association said the decrease could be caused by the pandemic distracting people from their preexisting thoughts or ideations.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan government introduces ‘Pillars for Life’ suicide prevention plan

“Many people cope with the immediate problem that there is… having no job or applying for CERB or all these kind of things. It gets a lot of people to focus on what they’re doing and it kind of keeps things from building up inside,” Dave Nelson, a senior program consultant with CMHA Saskatchewan, told Global News.

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But he said the distraction represents a delay, not a solution.

“A lot of times there’s an echo effect to a pandemic like this, where a month or so later when things calm down and you dealt with some of the immediate issues, then (preexisting issues)… really start bothering you.”

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He said the tumultuous period caused by COVID-19, with constant reports of economic chaos with daily measures of people infected and dead, was likely also the reason why the numbers to the government’s 811 health line regarding suicide didn’t increase.

Rebecca Rackow, the Saskatchewan CHMA’s advocacy, research and public policy director told Global News similar phenomena were observed during SARS and after 9/11, when the number of suicides dropped for several months after the events began or took place.

READ MORE: ‘Children deserve better:’ Manitoba advocate finds gaps in suicide prevention

She said the fact people are focusing on immediate issues caused by the pandemic does not give credibility to the idea that people who suffer mental illness don’t have enough to do.

She said “the spirit behind” how someone engages with a task is important.

But Rackow told Global News the number of calls about suicide the CMHA is receiving is slowly increasing, perhaps indicating the start of the “echo pandemic.”

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“There are a number of conditions that can be really exacerbated through a pandemic… and suicide is one of those things,” she said.

READ MORE: Family of N.Y.C. doctor who died by suicide says coronavirus ‘altered’ her brain

She and Nelson both said help is still available and they hope people who need to talk reach out.

Nelson said people should stay connected to friends and family, using video apps or the phone, and to get exercise and go outside — while physically distancing.

“People who have significant mental health problems… can feel socially isolated at the best of times. It’s really important to make sure people aren’t socially isolated even more as we are all kind of cooped up at home.”

Nelson also said it’s important to not “doomscroll”–to avoid pandemic news when you’re feeling sad because it can your mood worse.

He said people experiencing mental health issues or suicidal ideation, or friends and family of those people, must stay alert.

“The main thing is to face it head on and ask somebody ‘what are you talking about here? Do you have a plan?’ Don’t shy away from that and get some help.”

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If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, please reach out. Resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

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