Depression and the Recession: UK Suicides Rose With Economic Downturn

Takepart.comAugust 14, 2012

The recession has reached beyond U.S. shores, and with it has come tragedy: A study links the economic downturn in England with a rise in suicides.

The study, released today in the British Medical Journal, finds a correlation between two years of recession from 2008 to 2010 with higher suicide rates among men and women.

The increase followed two decades of decline in suicide rates. In 2008 suicides went up 8 percent among men and 9 percent among women, compared with 2007. Suicides dropped in 2010, but were still above 2007 rates.

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Using statistics on suicide and unemployment rates in 93 regions from 2000 to 2010, researchers determined there were additional suicides during those years that could be linked to the economy, since numbers were greater than previous trends. They estimated there were 846 more male suicides and 155 more female suicides than there would have been if the economy hadn’t tanked.

This is not the first time associations have been made between tough economic times and more suicides. A 2011 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the American Journal of Public Health found that suicides in the U.S. increased during dire economic times, such as the Great Depression and the recession in the early 1980s.

Anecdotal evidence that joblessness and underemployment takes a toll on mental health abounds. A story in the Washington Post details high-profile suicides in Europe that are pegged to financial ruin.

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“During tough economic times, not only are you dealing with hopelessness, and lack of possibilities for the future, but also purposelessness,” says Aaron Moore, a Florida based licensed mental health counselor and speaker for To Write Love On her Arms, a nonprofit organization that helps people struggling with depression, suicide, self-injury and addiction. “I see a lot of men who go through that.”

But as the UK study pointed out, more than male breadwinners are affected. Although more men than women killed themselves, rates rose higher among women.

“When we look at an economic downturn, we have to look at how it affects everyone, and it affects everyone in different ways,” Moore says.

Parts of the study may raise more questions than it answers, says Dr. Ian Cook, director of the UCLA Depression Research and Clinic Program. “It’s a departure from what’s anticipated and the possibilities range from the fact that there are more single moms to a greater parity in the workplace. It could be that families are more fragmented now and there’s less of a support network than in past years.”

As for who might be most vulnerable to suicide during tough financial times, it’s not just the lower middle class and the poor. “Having economic resources doesn’t protect against suicide,” Cook says, “and it doesn’t protect against depression.”

Any threat or talk of suicide should be taken seriously, health experts say. Some people may be more obvious about it, talking about how they’re going to kill themselves or about plans to buy a weapon.

Others signs may be more subtle, says Ashley Womble, online communications manager for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “If someone is talking about feeling hopeless or that they have no reason to live, that should be taken seriously as well. If someone is crying out for help, you should help.”

Resources are available, even for those who have lost health insurance. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a toll-free confidential hotline available 24 hours. The helpline provides crisis counseling as well as mental health referrals. To Write Love On Her Arms is not a helpline, but the group’s site lists several national resources.

Has the economy taken a toll on your mental health? Let us know in the comments.

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Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine |