Suicide Rates Strongly Influenced by Economic Ups and Downs

Caroline Cassels

April 19, 2011

April 19, 2011 — Suicide rates are significantly influenced by the state of the economy, dropping when times are good and rising when they are bad. Further, individuals aged 25 to 64 years appear to be most vulnerable to economic fluctuations, new research suggests.

Published online April 14 in the American Journal of Public Health by investigators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the study is reportedly the first to examine the relationships between age-specific suicide rates and business cycles.

"Knowing suicides increased during economic recessions and fell during expansions underscores the need for additional suicide prevention measures when the economy weakens," James Mercy, PhD, acting director of CDC's Injury Centers Division of Violence Prevention, said in a statement. "It is an important finding for policymakers and those working to prevent suicide," Dr. Mercy added.

According to the study, in 2007 suicide ranked as the 11th leading cause of death in the United States and was responsible for 34,598 deaths. The study authors note that although previous research has examined the association of suicide rates and economic crises, "these studies were limited in scope."

Noting that the "United States is currently facing the biggest economic challenge since the Great Depression," the authors set out to "comprehensively examine the impact of business cycles on overall age and age-specific suicide rates in the United States."

Led by Alexander E. Crosby, MD, the investigators collected suicide and economic data from 1928 to 2007. The researchers calculated age-specific suicide rates for the following 8 age groups:

  • 5 to 14 years;

  • 15 to 24 years;

  • 25 to 24 years;

  • 35 to 44 years;

  • 45 to 54 years;

  • 55 to 64 years;

  • 65 to 74 years; and

  • 75 years and older.

The investigators found the overall suicide rate fluctuated from 10.4 per 100,000 to 22.1 per 100,000 during the study period. They report the suicide rate peaked in 1932, the last full year of the Great Depression, and hit its lowest point in 2000.

The investigators report that the overall suicide rate decreased from 18.0 in 1928 to 11.2 in 2007.

"Most of the decline occurred before 1945; after that it fluctuated until the mid-1950s, and then it gradually moved up until the late 1970s. The overall suicide rate resumed its downward trend from the mid-1980s to 2000, followed by a trend reversal in the new millennium," the study authors write.

These findings suggest increased suicide prevention efforts are warranted during tough economic times — particularly during recessions, the researchers note.

"For example, during recessions importance must be placed on providing social support and counseling services to those who lose jobs or homes; promoting individual, family, and community connectedness and providing adequate resources to crisis call centers and other community services," they write.

The study also showed that individuals in prime working ages (25-64 years old) were the most adversely affected by economic downturns, a finding that researchers suggest may be because they bear the bulk of their families' financial burden.

"Therefore," they write, "job loss may cause more hardships to those people than to others.

"The multifaceted nature of suicide indicates the need to develop prevention efforts that use multiple settings where vulnerable individuals may be found," the study authors write.

They suggest that possible settings for prevention could include the workplace and employee assistance programs.

The study authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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