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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Suicide rate in England and Wales ‘fell after London bombings’

Embargoed until 06 January 2009

The suicide rate in England and Wales fell after the London bombings on 7 July 2005, according to new research published in the January issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

A second significant reduction also coincided with the second wave of terrorist attacks on 21 July, researchers found.

Previous studies have shown that terrorist attacks can have substantial effects on suicide rates. For example, England and Wales saw a reduction in suicide after the attacks of 11 September 2001 in the USA. This is thought to be because traumatic national events create group integration and greater cohesion within society. 

In this study, researchers Dr Emad Salib and Dr Mario Cortina-Borja analysed the daily suicide counts between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2005. Figures were obtained from the Office for National Statistics. A small but significant reduction in daily suicide rates was observed five days after the 7 July attacks – on 12 July. A second reduction was observed on 21 July, coinciding with the second wave of attacks. No similar reduction in suicide was seen during the same period in the previous four years.

The reduction in suicide on both days was found to be about 40%. This reduction was similar to – but not greater than – the reduction reported in England and Wales after 11 September 2001.  The researchers were surprised by this finding, as they had hypothesised the July bombings would have a much greater impact on suicide rates compared with the 2001 attacks in America. However, the reduction was still significant.

Dr Salib and Dr Cortina-Borja suggest that previous experience of IRA terrorism in the UK may have limited the effect of the 7 July 2005 attacks. Writing in the Biritish Journal of Psychiatry, they said: “The shock value of suicide terrorism and its psychological potency appear to diminish over time as the tactic becomes overused.”

The researchers added: “The terrorist attacks in London had been expected and, prior to 7 July 2005 attempts had been made by the British government to prepare the UK population for a possible major incident. This may have led to a relatively weaker emotional impact compared with the totally unexpected 11 September 2001 attacks in New York.”


For further information, please contact:
Kathy Oxtoby or Deborah Hart in the Communications Department.

Telephone: 0203 701 2544 or 0203 701 2538

 

References:

Salib E and Cortina-Borja M (2009) Effect of 7 July 2005 terrorist attacks in London on suicide in England and Wales, British Journal of Psychiatry, 194: 80-85

 

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