Researchers Help Future-Proof COVID-19 Treatments

COVID-19 lockdown may have increased suicidal thoughts

Newswise – The lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant effect on suicidal thoughts, a new study finds. The research, published in De Gruyter’s Open Medicinewas performed in a Serbian psychiatric clinic shortly after a nationwide lockdown.

For people with severe mental illness, the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly challenging. During the lockdown, loss of social contacts and employment, economic concerns, fear of illness, feelings of isolation and reduced access to psychiatric treatment all acted as stressors that could exacerbate or even cause such illness in previously healthy individuals.

To study the effect of lockdowns on severe mental illness and one of its most serious consequences, suicide, lead author Suzana Tosic Golubovic of the University of Nis in Serbia and colleagues examined patient records at a psychiatric clinic in Serbia and asked patients about their experience with the pandemic.

The researchers examined patients admitted to the clinic between May and August 2020, just after Serbia came out of lockdown. They then compared these patients with patients admitted in the same months in 2018 and 2019.

Thoughts of suicide, where a person is thinking about or wishing to die of his or her own death, was significantly increased in the 2020 patients after the lockdown compared to the 2018 and 2019 patients. Suicide attempts also increased in the 2020 patients, although these trend was not statistically significant.

The 2020 patients also showed higher levels of adjustment disorder, in which patients have difficulty adjusting to a stressful situation or event in their lives. Patients who attempted suicide in 2020 were more likely to be exposed to information about the pandemic on social media and were more likely to have adjustment disorder and major depressive disorder. Strikingly, 60% of patients who attempted suicide in 2020 had never received psychiatric treatment before, which was a significantly higher percentage than among patients who attempted suicide in 2019.

The results show the severe impact lockdown had on vulnerable patients, highlighting the need to protect such patients if lockdowns are needed in the future.

“Suicide prevention in the COVID-19 era is an important and difficult issue,” the authors said. “Further research is needed to find out how to mitigate the mental health impacts during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Open Access document “Possible impact of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on suicidal behavior in patients in Southeastern Serbia” can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1515/med-2022-0488

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