Brigham and Women’s doctor says suicide rates did not increase during pandemic lockdown in Mass.

“The notion that suicide deaths increased during this period here is simply inaccurate, we now can confidently say.”

BOSTON, MA - 7/27/2020:  People maintain designated social distance while waiting for their luggage in Boston Logan airport. With more people traveling, airports around the country have employed strict regulations to restrict the spread of coronavirus.  (Erin Clark/Globe Staff)
People maintain designated social distance while waiting for their luggage in Boston Logan airport in July. –Erin Clark / The Boston Globe

Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency room physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is pushing back against claims and worries that the coronavirus-spurred economic shutdowns in the spring resulted in a rise in suicides. 

The doctor shared his findings for the state of Massachusetts — that suicide deaths did not increase during the state’s lockdown in March, April, and May — on Twitter and wrote about what can be learned from the data in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post. The rates in Massachusetts did not change from expected numbers, neither rising nor falling during the spring. 

“The notion that suicide deaths increased during this period here is simply inaccurate, we now can confidently say,” he wrote Tuesday.

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Faust said he and his colleagues weren’t surprised by the finding, but what remains unclear is whether the number of suicides has gone up or not in the time since May. 

“If it has, will it be worse in states with longer shutdown periods (e.g. Massachusetts) or in places that opened sooner and had a far worse past few months both in terms of covid and the economy? Remains to be seen,” he wrote. “For now, we can say that people claiming a huge increase in suicides was occurring during the shutdown here were basically just *making that up*. We have to be data driven, not driven by a “gee whiz, that sounds right, so it must be!” mentality.”

During the final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, in response to a question about reopening schools that referenced Boston’s plans, the Republican leader again pushed a link between the economic shutdown and Americans taking their own lives — an argument he has presented repeatedly since the start of the pandemic. 

Faust reacted to the moment on Twitter on Thursday night.

“Depression is a problem but it is not as bad as DEATH,” he said. “Suicides during lockdowns DID NOT HAPPEN here, one of the longest shutdowns in the United States.”

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In his op-ed, Faust stressed that studying the effects of stay-at-home advisories is in “its infancy,” and that some worries about the measures will likely result in being overblown, while others may not.  

“There are legitimate questions to be raised about the pandemic’s toll on mental health,” he wrote. “Some of the impact may have more to do with the continuing inability to control the virus, and with the ensuing economic fallout, than with Americans’ staying home for weeks and even months in the spring. That said, a rise in suicides or other suffering resulting from temporary stay-home advisories is neither guaranteed nor inevitable.”

In Massachusetts, more than 9,500 people have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with more than 143,900 confirmed cases of the virus. 


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