Official figures from the Spanish government have revealed that in 2020, year one of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 4,000 people took their own lives—the highest number recorded since records began in 1906.
Data published by the National Statistics Institute (INE), an official agency that collects statistics on demography, the economy, and Spanish society, showed that 3,941 people ended their own lives in 2020, an increase of 7.4% year over year, and an average of eleven people each day, Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo reports.
In 2020, suicides remained the leading cause of unnatural death across Spain, well above fatal traffic accidents and other kinds of accidents.
While the suicide rate for children under the age of 15 double in 2020 compared to the previous year, the number of suicides in those over the age of 80 increased by 20%.
Figures also revealed 2,930 men and 1,011 women took their own lives last year. It was also the first year in Spanish history to see more than 1,000 women commit suicide.
Miguel Guerrero—a clinical psychologist who specializes in suicidal behavior, prevention, and intervention—spoke to the newspaper about the role the pandemic has played in the country’s record number of suicides.
“COVID-19 is a contextual risk factor that adds to the multi-causality of suicide,” he began, adding that “the pandemic has affected the risk factors we already knew about and has threatened protective factors, such as social cohesion.”
Guerrero also urged the state to enact suicide prevention policies immediately, saying: “COVID is a storm that we have all gone through, but some on a yacht and others in a rowboat. The pandemic has not been democratic, it has affected the most vulnerable the most.”
Clinical psychologist Luis Fernando López also commented on the seriousness of the data, drawing particular attention to the uptick in suicides among children.
The data “indicates that it is not true that the kids have coped well with the pandemic. It is said but it is a lie. We see a lot of self-harm, emotional disorders, eating disorders, addictions, and suicidal ideation, thoughts about death are more common than they were before. I see it in consultations.”
The same trend has been observed in France, as evidenced by a recent cross-sectional study published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.
The study’s chief researcher, Anthony Cousien, Ph.D., of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Paris in France, and colleagues wrote: “Rent studies have reported a deterioration in children’s mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with an increase in anxiety and mood disorders. … Rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts among children were also higher when COVID-19-related stressors were heightened in 2020.”