‘More People Have Died of Suicide This Year Than Corona’

On November 24 2020, a post on Reddit-clone TheDonald.win asserted that in 2020, “more people died of suicide this year than corona,” embedding the following tweet:

In the video, the speaker, who is a chiropractor and a “wellness advocate” from Omaha, Nebraska, decries “corona propaganda,” in a longer rant about “public shaming” around face masks. The man goes on to claim that if the “mask mandate” becomes a “vaccine mandate,” individuals who decline vaccination will be unable to participate in society.

The man describes COVID-19 as a “Trojan horse” as well as “spiritual and psychological warfare on the people,” adding:

The rate of suicide the highest it ever has been in human history … more people have died this year of suicide than from corona.

That claim had already circulated in various forms and variations throughout the 2020 pandemic. On the subreddit r/LockdownSkepticism, a user made the claim specifically about August 2020 and Australia:

That post linked to an August 6 2020 article which was more broadly about the events of 2020 and how they were affecting mental health, and it read in part:

Radio host Gus Worland has also been working tirelessly to get the message out there – reminding all Australians that you don’t have to go through a mental health crisis on your own.

“We don’t talk about suicide rate like we talked about the deaths in COVID,” Worland said.

“There’s been over 1,200 suicides since March [2020] compared to just over 200 deaths with the virus.

“They are the numbers we should be talking about.

“So many people are battling out there at the moment, and we need to give them as much information as possible on how to not worry alone and how to have a conversation with someone so they can get through this very difficult time.

“We were in crisis before COVID, and we’re even worse now.

“It’s time to throw perfect out the window and realise a bit of honesty with someone might save your life.”

Its comparison of deaths by suicide in Australia to deaths due to COVID-19 in the same period seemed to point to a correlation between lockdown and suicide deaths; Worland referenced 1,200 suicides in a five-month period from March to August 2020.

Australian suicide prevention group Life in Mind provided a number for deaths by suicide in Australia in 2019, which was before the 2020 pandemic and attendant stay-at-home orders began:

In 2019, preliminary data showed a total of 3,318 deaths by suicide (age-standardised suicide rate 12.9 per 100,000), 2,502 males (19.8 per 100,000) and 816 females (6.3 per 100,000).

Those figures lined up precisely with figures provided by the government of Australia’s “Causes of Death” for 2019.

Averaged across the twelve months of a year, there were roughly 276.5 deaths by suicide per month in Australia in 2019. A rough extrapolation of 2019’s twelve-month average applied to five months of 2020 (assuming an identical rate of death by suicide) totaled an estimate of 1,382.5 — more than 1,200 in a five month period in 2020. Percentage-wise, there was a 15 percent increase between 1,200 and 1,382.5, indicating a slightly higher rate of suicide in Australia in 2020.

A November 16 2020 abstract in The Lancet examined figures for deaths by suicide in Australia during “lockdown,” compared to statistics for previous years:

3793 suspected suicides were recorded with an unadjusted monthly rate of 14·85 deaths per 100 000 people (from Jan 1, 2015, to Jan 1, 2020) before the declaration, and 443 suspected suicides were recorded with an unadjusted monthly rate of 14·07 deaths per 100 000 people (Feb 1, 2020, onwards) after the declaration. An interrupted time-series Poisson regression model unadjusted (rate ratio [RR] 0·94, 95% CI 0·82–1·06) and adjusted for overdispersion, seasonality, and pre-exposure trends (RR 1·02, 95% CI 0·83–1·25) indicated no evidence of a change in suspected suicide rates. We found no absolute or relative increases in the motives for suspected suicides, including recent unemployment, financial problems, relationship breakdown, or domestic violence from February to August, 2020, compared with the pre-exposure period.

There does not yet appear to be an overall change in the suspected suicide rate in the 7 months since Queensland declared a public health emergency. Despite this, COVID-19 has contributed to some suspected suicides in Queensland. Ongoing community spread and increasing death rates of COVID-19, and its impact on national economies and mental health, reinforces the need for governments to maintain the monitoring and reporting of suicide mortality in real time.

Nevertheless, the individual speaking in the video shared to TheDonald.win was American, and likely discussing facts and figures in the United States, not Australia. The claim made in the above tweet and post were also made by Tom Brady in an October 27 2020 Instagram Story:

More suicide deaths than coronavirus death past two months … So wash your hands and wear your mask, but don’t forget to be nice to people and yourself.”

An October 27 2020 fact-check by PolitiFact examined the claim against current and ongoing death rates for COVID-19 in the United States:

“There’s no way this can be true,” said president of the American Association of Suicidology Dr. Jonathan Singer.

The most reliable statistics on suicides come from the National Center for Health Statistics and are from 2018. That year, there were 48,312 reported suicides, or an average of 4,026 every month.

Coronavirus deaths per month in the United States have been four times higher or more in recent months [as of October 27 2020].

Going back to June [2020] — a month when deaths were falling — it was about 19,000. Now [on October 27 2020], it’s about 22,000 people per month … The point is, no matter which recent months you take, COVID-19 has killed far more people than suicide has per month historically.

Is something happening different in 2020? Well, we don’t know; and neither does Brady.

Singer’s initial comment about there being “no way” the claim could be true alluded to the nature of specific statistics and their reporting. Deaths due to COVID-19 were reported and tracked in real time for both the United States overall, as well as individual states, counties, and cities. Deaths due to suicide were largely tallied by year, and real-time statistics were not typically available — leaving researchers to extrapolate on known rates of suicide from 2019 and earlier.

Of suicide deaths in 2020, Singer told the outlet that there were “no national numbers that are current,” adding:

Reporters ask us what is the effect of the coronavirus on suicides, and we don’t know. Because we don’t have the data.

Further research focused on specific regions, states, or jurisdictions in the same period; an October 2020 pre-print (“Suicide Deaths during the Stay-at-Home Advisory in Massachusetts”) examined whether stay-at-home policies caused an uptick in suicides in Massachusetts in 2020. Researchers concluded that suicide rates remained stable during that time:

The stable rates of suicide deaths during the stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts parallel findings following ecological disasters. As the pandemic persists, uncertainty about its scope and economic impact may increase. However, our data are reassuring that an increase in suicide deaths in Massachusetts during the stay-at-home advisory period did not occur.

On November 24 2020, an often-repeated claim that deaths by suicide outpaced deaths “from corona” in 2020 resurfaced. Countries with low death rates (like Australia) had statistics that at first appeared to suggest “lockdown” was riskier than COVID-19; when contrasted with pre-pandemic suicide rates, however, that claim disintegrated. Brady’s comment revived the inaccurate claim in the United States, but experts in suicide noted that there was no way that deaths by could have increased in 2020 to outpace the massive number of deaths due to COVID-19 in the same period.