by Steve Bringe
Circulating the past few weeks are a number of comparisons of the death tolls from suicide versus COVID-19 (coronavirus). This is an unfair measurement. Let me explain why.
COVID-19 is a novel infectious virus identified less than three months ago. If anything, the comparison is of DEATH RATE and not BODY COUNT.
But COVID-19 hasn’t run its initial infectious course. More people are surely to die from COVID-19 in the coming weeks if not months. How many people and how quickly? The current data populations cannot project either death rate or body count.
The only useful metric of COVID-19 is the ever-evolving R-naught which has no equivalent suicide metric.
The COVID-19 R-naught is 3.0, up from an early value of 1.2. This is highly infectious, at least as infectious as its coronavirus cousin, SARS. And thus far, the number of deaths from COVID-19 is outpacing SARS in its first three recorded months.
Right now, it’s premature to use COVID-19 as a side-by-side similarity for suicide rates and totals. This data on COVID-19 doesn’t exist and any quantitative claim of how much worse suicide is compared to COVID-19 isn’t accurate or possible. This comparison of suicide to COVID-19 is providing misinformation that lessens the true by-the-numbers impact of suicide.
Too many people die by suicide. I’ve tried myself. Unquestionably, advocacy and education about suicide is crucial. It’s just there are other more useful and more valid ways to continue bringing awareness to the tragedy of suicide without piggybacking on a highly visible – and highly disparate – ongoing public health concern like COVID-19.