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Thu Oct 22, 2020, 06:27 PM

Suicide rates during the pandemic remained unchanged. Here's what we can learn from that.


It turns out that both I and my crosstown colleague were mistaken. Suicide rates in Massachusetts neither rose nor fell last spring. Suicide rates did not change from expected rates at all.

...we performed what researchers call a sensitivity analysis ó a fancy way of saying we asked the same question in a number of ways to make sure we were not deluding ourselves. We compared this yearís rates in March, April and May with those from last year and other years.

No matter how we looked, we kept finding the same thing. Suicide rates did not budge during the stay-at-home advisory period (March 23 until a phased reopening began in late May) in Massachusetts, which had one of the longest such periods of any state in the nation.

Studying the effects of stay-at-home advisories is still in its infancy, and what is learned will help inform the decisions of public health officials as they consider measures to address future infectious-disease outbreaks or another covid-19 spike.

There are legitimate questions to be raised about the pandemicís toll on mental health. Some of the impact may have more to do with the continuing inability to control the virus, and with the ensuing economic fallout, than with Americansí staying home for weeks and even months in the spring. That said, a rise in suicides or other suffering resulting from temporary stay-home advisories is neither guaranteed nor inevitable.

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