Economic Crisis Blamed for International Increase in Suicide

Caroline Cassels

September 17, 2013

The global economic crisis of 2008 is being blamed for an international increase in suicide rates.

The first study to look at international trends in suicide, which included 54 countries, showed there was an excess of almost 5000 suicides in 2009 compared with the number expected on the basis of previous trends.

These increases mainly occurred in men and in countries with higher levels of job loss.

"We found a clear rise in suicide after the 2008 global economic crisis; there were about 4900 excess suicides in the year 2009 alone compared with those expected based on previous trends (2000-07)," the authors, led by Shu-Sen Chang, MD, University of Hong Kong, write.

The study was published online September 17 in BMJ.

Concern Over Austerity Measures

The 2008 economic crisis had a far-reaching impact around the world. Its effects included downturns in stock markets, bankruptcies, housing repossessions, and mass unemployment, the investigators note.

Estimates from the International Labour Organization show that worldwide unemployment increased by about 34 million between 2007 and 2009.

Previous studies on the impact of economic downturns on suicide rates have only included a limited number of countries or single countries, but the researchers point out that to date, "there has been no systematic investigation into the broader international pattern or sex/age groups and the regions most affected."

This information, they add, "is urgently needed as there is a concern that governments' austerity measures might inadvertently lead to negative impact on population mental health and further increase suicide rates."

For the study, the researchers analyzed suicide data from 54 countries in individuals aged 15 years or older.

The study's main outcome measure was the suicide rate and number of excess suicides in 2009.

The results revealed that on the basis of expected trends, there were 4884 excess suicides in 2009. This increase mainly occurred in men in the 27 European and 18 American countries included in the study.

Suicide rates were 4.2% higher than expected in European countries and 6.4% higher in American countries in 2009.

The largest increase in Europe was seen in 15- to 24-year-old men (11.7%) and 45- to 64-year-old men (5.2%).

There was no change in suicide in European women; a small increase was observed in American women.

Tip of the Iceberg

Also in 2009, new European Union member states, including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, and Slovenia, showed the largest increase inmale suicide rates (13.3%) within Europe.

The United States and Canada showed an increase of 8.9%, and Caribbean and Central American countries showed a 6.4% increase in male suicide compared with a smaller increase in South American countries.

Data were unavailable for a number of countries affected by the crisis, including Italy and Australia, and so these findings are very likely an "underestimate of the true global impact of the economic crisis on suicide."

Furthermore, the researchers note that the rise in suicides represents just a small fraction of the emotional distress caused by the economic crisis.

"Non-fatal suicide attempts could be 40 times more common than completed suicides, and for every suicide attempt about 10 people experience suicidal thoughts," they write.

The authors report no relevant financial relationships.

BMJ. Published online September 13, 2013. Full article

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