Economic crisis blamed for rise in suicide rates

The international study found suicides increased fourfold greater among men than women during the recession, widening the pre-existing gaps. Photograph: Thinkstock

The international study found suicides increased fourfold greater among men than women during the recession, widening the pre-existing gaps. Photograph: Thinkstock

Tue, Jun 24, 2014, 01:00

The global economic crisis has been linked to the deaths of at least 10,000 people by suicide across the developed world, a new study has claimed.

Researchers at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine calculated suicides from 2007, the last year before the crisis, and compared them with 2008 and 2009.

They observe that the downward trend in suicide rates in the EU reversed when the economic crisis began in 2007, rising by 6.5 per cent by 2009 and remaining at the higher level through to 2011.

In Canada, suicides rose by 4.5 per cent between 2007 and 2010; while in the US, the rate increased by 4.8 per cent over the same period.

The study found that the US and nearly all European societies have experienced rising rates of suicide. By contrast, New Zealand, which escaped the financial crisis, avoided a rise in suicide.

In the US, which was severely hit in 2008 and 2009, there were 4,750 excess deaths by suicide.

The pattern in Ireland mirrored that of most European countries, where a downward trend in suicide reversed as a result of the recession.

The rate of suicide increased sharply in Ireland during the recession. Some 552 deaths by suicide were recorded in 2009, representing an increase of 9 per cent in a single year. Of those, some 80 per cent were men.

A study by the National Suicide Research Foundation of suicide cases in Cork between September 2008 and March 2011 showed that 38 per cent of the people who took their own lives were unemployed, and 32 per cent worked in construction.

The international study found suicides increased fourfold greater among men than women during the recession, widening the pre-existing gaps. It also concluded that people who are unemployed are 2.5 times more likely to take their own lives than people who are working.

Mental illness

Data from the UK show that people who experienced financial difficulties during the recession were 33 per cent more likely to experience a mental illness than those who did not experience financial difficulties.

Those who have had their houses repossessed are 1.6 times more likely to experience mental illness than those who have not.

Active labour market programmes, which assist unemployed people to find work while providing other forms of support, reduce the impact of unemployment on suicide, the study found.

It has been calculated that every €75 invested in labour programmes reduces the association of unemployment with suicide by 0.4 per cent.

Report authors Aaron Reeves, Martin McKee and David Stuckler describe their 10,000 figure as a conservative estimate and say the rise in suicides is substantially over and above what would be expected.