On average more than 1,300 Czechs take their own lives each year. While the suicide rate has been dropping steadily since the 1970s, there are signs that the coronavirus crisis has led to a spike. Against that backdrop, the Government Council for Mental Health has approved a comprehensive suicide prevention plan.
The new suicide prevention plan draws follows on the heels of a mental health study carried out in May, when measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic had led to businesses, schools and universities closing, and increased isolation throughout society.
In any given year since 1989, suicide is the second most common cause of death among Czechs aged 15 to 24. Martin, a 23-year-old university student who fell into a dangerous depression, described his mental state during the lockdown to Czech Radio:
“In the beginning, it wasn’t clear to me what was going to happen. I thought [the pandemic] would be short-lived. Because of the quarantine, I wasn’t even allowed to go to work or school. That destroyed my daily routine. I started going to bed later, couldn’t sleep at night, was afraid and anxious and had dark thoughts. I had no energy left to do anything.”
Over the past couple of months, about a third of calls to the 1212 crisis hotline concerned mental health issues. The number of such calls even tripled on the crisis hotline especially for senior citizens, says Kateřina Bohatá, head of the Elpida senior centre:
Young adults and elderly people are more likely to attempt suicide than are working-age adults, while across the board men – who tend to have fewer close relationships than women – are more likely to kill themselves.
According to the latest figures of the World Health Organization, the suicide rate in the Czech Republic is just below the EU average on a per capita basis, and in the bottom third globally.
Alexandr Kasal, coordinator of the national suicide prevention plan, says the new prevention plan aims to reduce Czech suicides by 30 percent over the next decade. To do so, he says, it is especially important that teachers and general practitioners can recognise when someone is at risk.
“Pharmacists are another important partner in preventing suicide. They can intervene if they recognise certain warning signs, and if someone orders a large amount of a drug that can be misused.”
Intentional overdoses are among the most common suicide methods. The new prevention plan also anticipates better protection for rail lines, says Kasal:
“Prevention is based on building barriers. In addition, more signs with contacts for crisis lines are being installed at the railways. These could encourage people who are not yet completely committed to suicide get help.”
There are now only five state mental health crisis centres in the Czech Republic. The plan is to open at least one in each of the country’s fourteen regions, says Marie Salamonová of the aid organization Nevypusť duši, which focuses on incorporating mental health education into Czech schools:
“Help must be more accessible and the crisis centres must remain open. There are currently two centres in Prague, one in Brno, one in Ostrava and one in Trutnov. Every one of them closed their inpatient sections during the coronavirus crisis.”
The Government Council for Mental Health, led by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, will oversee the suicide prevention plan, to ensure cooperation among various ministries. The state plans to invest a total of 800 million crowns in the measures.