Decline in Czech suicide rates intact despite the pandemic

Last year saw the second lowest number of suicides in the Czech Republic’s recorded history, though the rate is still higher than the EU average.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 12.12.2021 09:21 (updated on 12.12.2021) Reading time: 2 minutes

The Czech Republic has long struggled with high suicide rates compared to the rest of Europe. It was feared that the Covid pandemic and associated uncertainty and stress throughout society might raise the number of people taking their own life significantly.

Yet new data from the Czech Statistical Office shows that in 2020 the second lowest ever recorded number of suicides took place in the Czech Republic, with 1224 people taking their own life. Although a 3% increase on the previous year, when the lowest total ever was seen, there is relief that the negative effects of the pandemic did not result in a significant break from the long-term declining trend.

“Since 1970, there has been an uninterrupted trend of a long-term decline in suicides, with some year-on-year fluctuations, said Markéta Šafusková from the Czech Statistical Office’s Demographic Statistics Department.

Still, the latest suicide statistics show a two other, more worrying trends. Far more men committed suicide last year than women; more than four-fifths of suicides were among men. But women are more likely to attempt suicide; if not leading to death, then often resulting in severe physical and psychological trauma. Experts say the higher suicide rate among men is the result of the “more drastic steps” which tend to be taken by males who decide to take their own life.

It was also noted that while suicides did not increase much during the pandemic, clinics did at times see many more attempts. “After the first lockdown, people came to us more; during April and May (2020) we had up to 80 patients being admitted per month as a result of a suicide attempt. In normal times the number is about 30,” Martin Anders, Head of the Psychiatric Clinic of the General University Hospital in Prague, told Idnes.cz.

Czech suicide rates have long been worse than the EU average, with 14 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants from 2011 to 2018 compared to 11 per 100,000 in the EU as a whole. The highest rate in the bloc is in Lithuania, at 30 deaths per 100,000; the lowest are in southern states such as Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Italy.

EU figures are now calling for a coordinated attempt to tackle mental health issues, arguing the pandemic health crisis could be followed by a mental health crisis.

“Given the effects of the pandemic, we need a coordinated EU approach to mental health. It’s time for the Commission to present a comprehensive document with concrete steps and recommendations,” urged Tomáš Zdechovksý, MEP for the Czech KDU-ČSL party.

The MEP Alliance for Mental Health is now calling for greater innovation in tackling mental health issues, including the possible exploration of psychedelic-based treatments as an alternative to classic anti-depressants.

In the Czech Republic, a long-term decline in suicides has not been derailed by the pandemic; but experts still fear complacency around mental health issues. The mental health impact of recent events may not yet have fully made itself known, so it’s clear the state of Czech mental health will need to be monitored more closely than ever over the coming months and years.

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