Canberra: Australia’s suicide rate could increase by as much as 50 per cent as the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were taking their toll on people’s mental health, experts predicted on Thursday. Also Read - Theatres to Reopen by June 30, Not Sooryavanshi But Hollywood Biggies to Release First to Check Footfalls?

In a joint statement, a group of Australian mental health experts warned that the impact of the COVID-19 on the economy and more broadly, could cause an extra 1,500 suicides per year on top of the current 3,000 plus annually — a 50-per cent increase, reports Xinhua news agency. Also Read - 'Rs 20 Lakh Crore Package a 'Major Step' in Making India 'Atamnirbhar': Read Full Text of PM Modi's Letter to Nation

Among those increased cases, it is likely around 30 per cent will be young people aged between 15 to 25 years and the number could increase even more if Australia’s economy deteriorated even further. Also Read - 2 Test COVID-19+ at Ministry of External Affairs, Several Officials Advised to Self-quarantine: Report

Such a death rate could turn out to be well above the number of deaths directly attributed to the COVID-19 and could last for five years if the current economic downturn is longer than 12 months.

“The impacts of unemployment will be greatest among the young, those who live in rural and regional Australia, and those areas hardest hit by job losses will not recover quickly,” co-director of University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre (BMC) Professor Ian Hickie said.

Hickie and other experts called for immediate action, long-term investment and modelling on mental health to address the issue and help Australia transition out of the pandemic.

As of Thursday, there were a total of 6,894 COVID-19 cases in Australia, with 97 deaths.