Deaths from suicide drop as COVID’s mortality impact revealed

Fears that suicide rates in Australia would spike as a result of lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have proved unfounded.

On Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest figures on the causes of death in 2020, which showed that the pandemic actually led to a significant reduction in mortality in Australia, including in the suicide rate.

For women, the suicide rate was the lowest since 2013 and for men the rate of suicide was the lowest since 2016.

The suicide rate was 12.1 per 100,000 people, which was down from 12.9 in 2019.

Read: COVID booster jabs needed for older Australians

There were also decreases across the top five leading causes of death in Australia, the first time the rate of death for each of these had fallen since 2008-09.

Heart disease was still the leading cause of death in Australia, despite fewer deaths in 2020.

The news on heart disease comes amid fears that at least 27,000 Australians are likely to have missed out on early detection of heart attack and stroke risk during the pandemic through missing or delaying heart health checks.

Read: Australia finally set to join the rapid home testing party

The Heart Foundation has released modelling showing that there was a dramatic drop in heart health screening … and says that if its modelling is correct these missed heart health checks could have prevented 345 heart attacks, strokes or heart disease deaths over the next five years.

“People have been reluctant to seek routine medical attention during the pandemic and that includes having preventive health checks like a heart health check,” explained Heart Foundation chief medical adviser Professor Garry Jennings.

“This could have serious and even fatal consequences.”

Read: Return to COVID-normal not so simple for older Aussies

After heart disease, the next biggest killer of Australians was dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), ahead of strokes, lung cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases, according to ABS director of mortality statistics Lauren Moran.

“COVID-19 was the 38th ranked cause of death in 2020 with 898 deaths recorded through the civil registration system,” Ms Moran said.

“Among those people, the most commonly reported co-morbidity was dementia (270 deaths), followed by chronic heart conditions, hypertension and diabetes.

“With fewer than 900 deaths from COVID-19 in 2020 and public health measures supressing the spread of other infectious diseases, deaths from many causes also decreased.”

There was a 24 per cent decrease in people dying from respiratory diseases, the highest annual decrease recorded since the ABS started collecting this data.

There were only 55 deaths due to the flu in 2020 and none reported after July, compared with 1080 in 2019.

Despite reductions in many causes of death, alcohol-induced deaths increased by 8.3 per cent in 2020, with 108 additional deaths compared to 2019.

Disclaimer: Australian readers seeking support and information about anxiety and depression can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information on treating depression, please visit Beyond Blue.

Are you surprised that Australia’s mortality rate dropped last year? Do you think we will see COVID cause more deaths this year as we start to adopt the national plan for reopening Australia? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.
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