Money woes and depression go hand in hand
New research published in the British Medical Journal ties the recession and unemployment from the global financial crisis to nearly 5,000 suicides, worldwide, in 2009.
Researchers at the University of Hong Kong and other institutions examined suicide trends in 54 countries around the world, using data on unemployment, gross domestic product and suicide deaths from the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2009, a 37 percent jump in unemployment seems to have fueled a 3.3 percent increase in the global suicide rate for men, according to the study. That uptick translates into an additional 5,000 deaths.
The increased rates were especially pronounced in countries that previously had low unemployment levels, the study found. An estimated 2,700 to 3,700 of those additional deaths occurred in 18 countries in the Americas, where the overall suicide rate jumped 6.4 percent, as the unemployment rate rose up to 101 percent, the study found. Another 2,400 to 3,500 additional deaths were recorded in 27 European countries, where the suicide rate rose 4.2 percent as the unemployment rate rose by as much as 35 percent.
Across North and South America, the largest spike in suicides was seen among 45- to 64-year-old men. The data shows there was less change in suicide rates among women; rates were up an average 2.3 percent.
The recorded suicide numbers may only be the tip of the iceberg. The researchers estimate that for every suicide, 30 to 40 people attempt suicide.
The results are consistent with previous research that shows economic downturns and rises in unemployment are followed by spikes in suicides. Another research report from 2009 estimates that the Asian financial crisis in 1997-1998 led to over 10,000 suicides in Japan, Hong Kong and Korea.
The news isn’t surprising to some physicians.
“The job losses we’ve had and the disruptions they have caused among families have put many people at risk for depression and suicide,” said Dr. Bruce Hyman, at Advocate Condell Medical Center. “Addressing these issues is even more challenging because of cuts to mental health services and funding.”
David Gunnell, a public health researcher at the University of Bristol in England who helped lead the study, said men might be more likely to commit suicide because they tend to be the breadwinners of their families, and felt more stress during the financial crisis. Men are also more likely to commit suicide in general, he said in a published report.
The study also should be a warning about the dangers of cutting back on mental health services, Gunnell said. The results also identify people who are at-risk, which could help public health officials in their intervention efforts.
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