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Int J Ment Health Syst ; 14(1): 88, 2020 Dec 03.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-961329

ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND: Based on previous experience there is justifiable concern about suicidal behaviour and news media reporting of it during COVID-19 pandemic. METHODS: This study used a systematic search of online news media reports (versions of newspapers, magazine and other digital publications) of suicidal behaviour during India's COVID-19 lockdown and compared it to corresponding dates in 2019. Data was gathered using a uniform search strategy from 56 online news media publications 24 March to 3 May for the years 2019 and 2020 using keywords, suicide, attempted suicide, hangs self and kills self. Demographic variables and methods used for suicide were compared for suicide and attempts between the 2 years using chi-squared tests (χ2). RESULTS: There were online news media reports of 369 cases of suicides and attempted suicides during COVID lockdown vs 220 reports in 2019, a 67.7% increase in online news media reports of suicidal behaviour. Compared to 2019, suicides reported during lockdown were significantly older (30 vs 50 years, p < 0.05), men (71.2% vs 58.7%; p < 0.01), married (77.7% vs 49%; p < 0.01) and employed (82.9% vs 59.5%; p < 0.01). During the lockdown, significantly more suicides were by hanging (64.4% vs 42%), while poisoning (8.5% vs 21.5%) and jumping in front of a train (2% vs 9.4%) (p < 0.05) were significantly reduced. Comparison of COVID and non-COVID groups showed that online news media reports of COVID cases of suicide and attempted suicide were significantly more likely to be men (84.7% vs 60.4%; p < 0.01), older (31-50 years 52.9% vs 25.8%; p < 0.01) employed (91.5% vs 64.3%; p < 0.01), had poor mental (40.1% vs 20.8%; p < 0.01) and poor physical health (24.8% vs 7.9%;11.8, p < 0.01). CONCLUSION: Increase in online news media reports of suicides and attempts during COVID-19 lockdown may indicate an increase in journalists' awareness about suicide or more sensational media reporting or may be a proxy indicator of a real community increase in suicidal behaviour. It is difficult to attribute changes in demographic profile and methods used only to changes in journalists' reporting behaviour and should be further explored. We therefore call upon the Government of India to urgently release national suicide data to help devise a comprehensive suicide prevention strategy to address COVID-19 suicidal behaviour.

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