During the health crisis, suicide attempts on the rise among young women

It is a report with contrasting conclusions published this Tuesday, September 6, by the National Suicide Observatory (ONS) on the effects of the health crisis in terms of suicide risk. Whether “Containment measures, limitation of movement and activities, closure of many places, as well as congestion of the healthcare system (…) fueled multiple risk factors,” the first necessary data on the French situation in 2020 “seem to have dispelled these fears”, says in the introduction this body placed under the responsibility of the Department of research, studies, evaluation and statistics (Drees).

Among the main lessons to be learned is the drop in deaths by suicide during the two confinements of 2020 – by 20 and 8% respectively – compared to previous years. Hospitalization rates in medicine, surgery, obstetrics and odontology (MCO) for self-inflicted injuries are also lower than in the period 2017-2019, especially for people under the age of 60. These results, which must be interpreted in the light of a general downward trend in suicidal behavior since the 1980s, can be explained by the feeling of social cohesion developed during the pandemic, but also by greater surveillance of relatives during the confinements.

However, for Ludovic Gicquel, head of the university center of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Laborit hospital center in Poitiers, the analyzer of suicide in general is not the most relevant: “It’s not a linear phenomenon. It is also necessary to distinguish between suicidal thoughts, attempts and deaths. » In the ONS report, “an increase in symptoms of anxiety, depression and sleep problems” was indeed identified in the first weeks of the epidemic, which may be the beginnings of suicide attempts. The results should also “be interpreted with caution, as they may mask an increase in the proportion of procedures not leading to hospital”, also admit the ONS.

Increase in female suicides

Another observation, for once worrying: the second half of 2020 was marked by a ” sharp rise “ suicidal gestures among adolescent girls and young women, a phenomenon that will persist until the first half of 2022. For all levels of life, women are particularly vulnerable between the ages of 15 and 19, but more particularly those belonging to 25% of households the most modest. Among them, the rate of hospitalizations for self-inflicted injuries is almost eight times higher than for men of the same age.

If the age variable in the importance of suicide is largely explained by the loss of “social, institutional, friendly and emotional supports” of young people during successive confinements, the gender variable is less analysed. “Women and young people seem more vulnerable in the face of the economic crisis, as they work in more precarious jobs and in service sectors affected by confinement and social distancing measures”, exposes the ONS. “Without falling into clichés, I would say that young women have a stronger propensity to blame themselves than men”, adds Ludovic Gicquel. And to add: “Girls think about suicide more, but attempts ‘succeed’ less, unlike boys. »

Systemic suicide prevention

Faced with these data, the ONS recommends suicide prevention “systemic”.Many potential resource people (for suicidal people, editor’s note) do not realize the extent of the discomfort, they do not agree among themselves to decide what to do (…)general practitioners are not always trained enough to listen to mental suffering and best guide the young people who will find them”, can we read in the report.

An observation shared by Ludovic Gicquel: “Often, it is the teenagers’ friends who call for help, and in many cases suicide attempts never reach the emergency room and there is no informed medical team upstream. » Hence the importance of carrying out preventive actions, but not only. “When Stromae sings his song about suicide on TF1’s newscast, it’s very strong. Because it makes us understand that it is everyone’s business. »


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