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Suicide in Finland up by nearly 15% this spring

An expert says many are reluctant to reach out for help during the coronavirus crisis.

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Image: Igor Stevanovic / AOP

There has been an increase in suicides in Finland during the coronavirus crisis, and health officials suspect that those in need of mental health care have not been reaching out for it.

During March and April the number of suspected suicides was nearly 15 percent higher than the same period last year, according to national police board data. In those two months, a total of 129 suicides were recorded.

The most dramatic increase in suicides was observed in the region of Central Finland during March and April, doubling from 14 to 30, according to local authorities.

Statistics show that people often attempt or commit suicide in the spring, but the trend rarely rises as early as March.

Few seeking help during crisis

Significantly fewer people than usual have sought psychiatric care in Finland this period as well, according to health officials who voiced concern about a possible backlog of patients seeking help this summer.

"Psychiatric care clinics have been frighteningly quiet," said Hanna-Mari Alanen, the director of psychiatric care at Tampere University Central Hospital, in the Pirkanmaa region.

"Doctors are asking each other where all the patients are," she added.

Pirkanmaa's largest mental health clinic is usually full of patients, but up to three entire wards have stood empty, Alanen explained, saying that the high threshold patients need to meet in order to get care in the coronavirus age means that people who need it aren't seeking help.

A similar pattern has been seen across healthcare facilities around the country, as well as the rest of the world. Individuals are increasingly cancelling medical appointments because they don't want to burden the healthcare system or are afraid of getting a coronavirus infection.

Alanen said that the summer months are usually calm at mental health care facilities, but this year the hospital wards will remain open.

"I am worried what the summer will be like. It feels like the calm before the storm," she said, noting that mental health care services for the elderly are largely free of patients.

Similarly, the amount of people who sought mental health care in the Helsinki and Uusimaa health district declined by 20 percent this spring, compared to the same period in recent years.

Domestic violence up

Law enforcement officials around the country have also noted an increase in domestic violence during the first three months of this year, reporting an increase in units sent to home disturbance complaints by around 3,000 more than usual during that period.

On Thursday the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a warning about the threat of a possible mental health crisis prompted by the coronavirus epidemic that could affect millions of people around the world,

The global health agency urged governments around the world to emphasise psychiatric care, saying that increased deaths, isolation, fear and poverty will pose major threats to people's mental health.

The Mieli association offers a helpline service in English. You can find more details here.

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