Comparison of years of life lost to 1,565 suicides versus 10,650 COVID-19 deaths in 2020 in Sweden: four times more years of life lost per suicide than per COVID-19 death
Background: The burden of disease from the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic is large; however, suicide affects the population year after year. From a public health perspective, it is important to not neglect contributors to the total burden of disease. The aim of this paper is to compare years of life lost (YLL) to suicide with those lost to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Methods: A nationwide cohort study in 2020, in Sweden. YLL was measured as the sex- and age-specific remaining life expectancy at the time of the person’s death based on the death risks that pertained to the Swedish population in 2019. YLL to suicide was compared to YLL to COVID-19 and presented by sex and age groups. Suicide deaths in 2020 were estimated as the annual average of suicides in 2015–2019.
Results: Annual average of suicide was 1,565, whereof 1,076 (68.8%) men and 489 (31.2%) women. In 2020, 10,650 persons died of COVID-19, whereof 5,681 (53.3%) men and 4,969 (46.7%) women. Estimated total YLL to suicide and COVID-19 in 2020 was 53,237 and 90,116, respectively. The COVID-19 YLL to suicide YLL ratio in 2020 was 1.69 (90,116/53,237). Men accounted for 67.1% of suicide YLL and of 56.4% of COVID-19 YLL. Those 44 years or younger accounted for 60.3% of suicide YLL and 3.9% of COVID-19 YLL. Those 75 years and older accounted for 2.9% of suicide YLL and 60.9% of COVID-19 YLL. On average, each suicide generates 34 YLL (53,237/1,565), and each COVID-19 death generates 8.5 YLL (90,116/10,650).
Conclusions: YLL to suicide affects Sweden year after year, foremost attributable to the younger age groups, whereas YLL to COVID-19 is foremost attributable to the elderly. On average, each suicide generates four times more YLL than a COVID-19 death. Enormous efforts and resources have been put on tackling the pandemic, and without these, the burden would probably have been much larger. However, from a public health perspective, it is important to not neglect other contributors to the total burden of disease where national efforts also may have an impact.
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