Tragic cost of recession in lives lost
Times of economic crisis are linked to higher rates of suicide. Increased suicide was observed during the Great Depression in the US and during the economic crises of the late 1990s in Russia and southeast Asia. A recently published study from University College Cork and the National Suicide Research Foundation offers some insights into the impact of economic recession and austerity in the Republic on rates of suicide and self-harm between 2008 and 2012.
Dr Paul Corcoran and his colleagues found the suicide rate among men here was some 57 per cent higher by the end of 2012 compared with the rate that would have prevailed if pre-recession trends had continued. They also found a significant increase in self-harm rates, with an increase of 31 per cent in men and 22 per cent in women. In absolute terms, there were 476 more male and 85 additional female suicide deaths in the five-year study period.
The National Registry of Deliberate Self Harm is the world’s first national registry focused specifically on non-fatal suicidal behaviour presenting to hospital emergency departments. Providing a unique insight into the effect of recession on self-harm, an analysis of its data showed an additional 5,029 male and 3,833 more female self-harm presentations to hospital between 2008 and 2012.
Overall the figures suggest that in the five-year period the approximate numerical equivalent of one additional complete year of suicide and self-harm occurred. By any yardstick this is a sobering finding. Coinciding with a doubling of unemployment in 2008, reaching a peak of 15 per cent in 2012, along with a deep recession involving eight consecutive quarters of negative GDP figures, the research is a stark reminder of the tragic human cost of poor economic management. The finding that the effect of recent recession on suicide was primarily associated with men of working age is significant. It must form the basis of a comprehensive policy on how best to mitigate the effects of future economic crises on mental health.