Nfld. & Labrador

Suicides rates haven't increased in N.L. under the pandemic but psychologist remains cautious

Despite the steady suicide rate, says Dr. Janine Hubbard, people's mental health has declined through the pandemic.

Despite steady suicide rate, Dr. Janine Hubbard says, people's mental health has declined through the pandemic

Psychologist Janine Hubbard says she's not surprised by the latest suicide statistics. (Meghan McCabe/CBC)

The number of people who have died by suicide in Newfoundland and Labrador since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't veered from the status quo but one St. John's psychologist cautions the worst may be yet to come.

Numbers provided by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner show there were 67 suicides in 2020. There were five fewer in 2019, and 71 in 2018. From January to mid-November 2021, there were 49 cases. 

Dr. Janine Hubbard, a psychologist, says she's not surprised by those numbers. History has shown, she said, that during a collective crisis, suicide levels do not tend to change. If anything, she says, they decrease. 

"It's after the crisis has passed that we then see the increase in suicide numbers. That's why we're both not surprised about the current state but really worried about what's going to happen going forward," Hubbard said during an interview by phone Friday. 

As the world faces a new variant, and Newfoundland and Labrador begins to see an increase in numbers, uncertainty abounds, she said, and those threats of what's to come cause the body to react with anxiety. 

The number of people who died by suicide in 2020 was on par with previous years. (Office of the Chief Medical Examiner)

"We were better off this time last Christmas, when we had strict instruction on what to expect," Hubbard said. "That allowed us to make plans — yes, they were completely altered plans but we were able to feel confident in our decision-making."

Since 2020, Hubbard said, she has seen an increase in substance abuse, anxiety, depression and a marked jump in eating disorders. 

"In particular one of the things we're seeing, that is alarming, is an increase in reports of suicidal ideation and thoughts, in kids and teens, in rates we haven't seen before.

"It may not be taking action, but those thoughts are there." 

Hubbard said supports throughout the pandemic, like government financial support, has allowed people to have breathing room. The importance of social connection was also dominant during the pandemic, which helped people suffering with mental health. 

As the pandemic drags on, and new variants are introduced, Hubbard worries about what will happen next. 

Her advice: reach out to friends, family and neighbours to connect and see if they need some help. 

"These little gestures can go a really long way this time of year."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

If you or someone you know needs mental health support, call the 24-hour mental health crisis line at 1-888-737-4668 or the 24-hour Kids Help Phone line at 1-800-668-6868. The CHANNAL peer support line, a non-emergency, non-crisis telephone support and referral service, is available at 1-855-753-2560 or in St. John's 709-753-2560.


Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit.