Fiocruz study links suicide cases to regional and social inequalities

A study published by scientists from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Cruz) points to a direct relationship between the cases of suicide recorded in Brazil in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and factors such as regional and social inequalities. According to the survey, there was a significant increase in occurrences in the North and Northeast regions, which are the two most socially vulnerable in Brazil. The survey used official mortality data provided by the Ministry of Health.

Published in the international magazine Journal of Social Psychiatry, the study was prepared by epidemiologist Jesem Orellana, from Instituto Leônidas & Maria Deane (ILMD/Fiocruz Amazônia), and psychiatrist Maximiliano Ponte, from Fiocruz Ceará. The results show a 26% increase in suicide cases among men over 60 years old in the North region. In the Northeast, growth reached 40% among women in the same age group.

Despite the worrying statistics verified in the two regions, the authors point out that, on the national average, there was a 13% drop in suicide cases in 2020. “Our work highlights the importance of treating suicide beyond an individual health problem, as it it is an issue with a deep relationship with economic inequalities and access to social and public health services”, explains Maximiliano Ponte.

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For the psychiatrist, science must increasingly focus on studies that correlate suicide with social and regional variables. “These questions must always be raised in studies on suicide, particularly in developing countries with large regional and economic inequalities like Brazil,” he added.

Jesem Orellana points out that suicide is a public health problem that figures as an important cause of premature death throughout the world, but especially in Latin America. “Therefore, it is essential to know its magnitude, distribution and possible reasons, aiming at its prevention”, he explains. According to the researcher, the occurrence of a suicide can be linked to many factors. “Biological issues such as sex or age, as well as social factors and mental disorders, especially anxiety and depression”, he quotes.

According to Orellana, the results of the study point to the need to understand the current health crisis more broadly or as a phenomenon arising from the interaction between Covid-19 and other existing health challenges. “Our study also warns of the possibility of even stronger indirect effects on suicides from 2021 onwards, since the direct pandemic impact (deaths from Covid-19) was even more severe in 2021”, he justifies.

With the research, the scientists hope to contribute to the formulation of new public policies aimed at mitigating the factors directly associated with cases of suicide. At the same time, they warn of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of the population and how the situation has contributed to the increase in premature deaths in poorer regions.

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