Counting the human toll of the economic crash

While suicide rates increase, countries that invest in labour market supports can reduce deaths

Men were at a much higher risk of dying by suicide. The rate among men at the end of 2012 was 57 per cent higher than would have been the case had the recession not occurred.

Men were at a much higher risk of dying by suicide. The rate among men at the end of 2012 was 57 per cent higher than would have been the case had the recession not occurred.

 

We may know all about the heavy financial price of the economic crash. But we’re only just beginning to piece together the full picture of human toll of job losses, debt and increased hardship.

A study led by Prof Ella Arensman and Dr Paul Corcoran of the National Suicide Research Foundation indicates there were almost 500 additional suicides between 2008 and 2012 than would have been the case if the recession had not occurred.

Men were at a much higher risk of dying by suicide. The rate among men at the end of 2012 was 57 per cent higher than would have been the case had the recession not occurred. The equivalent rate for women was 7 per cent higher.

It’s not as simple as saying the recession caused those additional deaths. But there is a wide-ranging and reliable body of evidence that documents a strong association between unemployment, debt and poor mental health.

Cork deaths

Some 33 per cent of these suicides involved people who were unemployed and 42 per cent had worked in the construction or associated sectors, which were the most severely hit by the recession.

Deaths by suicides are often seen as tragic and inevitable consequences of a sharp economic downturn. But there is increased evidence to show public policies can play a role in reducing the numbers at risk.

International research shows marked differences in suicide rates across countries affected by the same recession.

This has lead them to conclude that, in theory, some of the increase in suicides during an economic crisis is avoidable.

A University of Oxford study, for example, suggests countries that invest in active labour market programmes reduce the risk of suicide.

The authors highlight Austria, Sweden, and Finland as examples of countries where the suicide rate did not increase markedly despite rising unemployment during the recession.

Sweden, between 1991 and 1992, and Finland, between 1990 and 1993, both experienced rises in unemployment at the same time as the rate of suicide decreased. All had strong support for people who lost their jobs or were struggling financially.

Decline

Here the Government has made much of its claim to have protected core welfare rates during the downturn.

Prof Arensman, however, says policies such as the loss of medical cards among some low income-groups and a failure to address decreases in the price of alcohol have not helped.

“If we know that some people with mental health issues are affected by socio-economic problems, the last thing we should be doing is taking away medical cards,” she said.

As the country emerges from the downturn, researchers say we need to place a greater emphasis on the kind of preventative measures that could reduce the numbers taking their own lives.

A new five-year strategic framework is being drafted by officials at the HSE and Department of Health.

Some experts say we should look to jurisdictions using evidence-based suicide prevention programmes to significantly reduced numbers taking their own lives in recent years.

This typically involves large-scale training of professionals, high-quality services for those at risk and closer links between health services and accredited services in the community.

In Germany, this approach initially led to a fall of 24 per cent in suicide and attempted suicide in the Nuremberg area of Germany between 2001 and 2002. It was subsequently rolled out across 73 regions and led to a decrease in the national suicide rate of 15.4 per cent between 1999 and 2011.

If you need support, contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org

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