Surprising reason suicide rates dropped during COVID-19
Welfare support, more mental health resources and a stronger community spirit have created a significant decline in deaths by suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say.
The number of lives lost to suicide in 2020 were five per cent lower than 2019, NSW government data shows.
And mental health experts say that while anxiety and depression were increasing during the pandemic, people were prevented from taking drastic steps due to an increase in support.
Clinical psychologist and co-founder of telehealth psychology service Chology Tom Osborn said the trend was similar to one seen in historical global crises such as wars.
"In great hardship there is a level of communal resilience. There is a banding together of society … (people think) I'm not alone in this," he said.
"When things are ticking along OK, those who are struggling may feel there's no reason for them to feel this way. Shared pain is pain halved."
Mr Osborne said the government's support of telehealth, increasing the number of psychological sessions eligible for a rebate, and more community awareness about mental health, all helped to drive down the figures.
"The support of telehealth has meant there is more access to mental health support and Australians, particularly those in regional and rural communities where suicide rates are typically higher," he said.
"There has been greater action and greater levels of support seeking behaviour."
Federation University social work and human services expert Professor Jennifer Martin said Australia's relatively fast economy recovery had also helped prevent a spike in suicides.
"With suicide, people see no way out of the situation but here, people could still see a way out even though it wasn't easy. It's been a major crisis and we did expect to see economic hardship but we had provisions like Jobkeeper," she said.
"Some people expected that there will be an increase in suicide when people come off JobKeeper but we haven't see the decline in the economy to the extent that we expected.
"Some of the provisions have been really helpful. People on the streets who would be suffering violence, abuse and mental health issues, they were better supported during COVID than ever before."
Prof Martin said it was important for authorities to consider how these positive provisions can be continued even once the pandemic is over, given their impact on suicide prevention.
"We shouldn't estimate the deaths by suicide that we did have."
Alison and Paul Diaper faced immense stress during the pandemic due to strenuous work pressure but said the ability to spend more time together as a family was a protective barrier.
"My husband and I work in travel so for us it was challenging. We were having difficult days, but were able to rely on each other and take breaks and work through the mental situation," Mrs Diaper said.
"We got to eat dinner together as a family. We got to take them (the kids) to and from school. We did a lot of activities together (even though) we were working longer hours, with many more meetings."
Mrs Diaper said the flexibility in working arrangements allowed her to be closer to her sons Carter, 10, and Harley, 8.
The Marrickville family also used telehealth psychology assessment services to help their boys with specific learning disorders.
"I have this vivid moment at Easter that I remember. The children were writing in their books at night and my 10 year old was writing about what COVID meant to him. It was incredible, it helped me understand what he needed from me emotionally."
Originally published as Surprising reason suicide rates dropped during COVID-19