Recessions have a devastating impact, not just on the economy but also on the loves of millions of individuals. "Suicides have risen markedly" during the recession in Europe and North America, British researchers found, and an additional 10,000 people took their own lives.
Economic Crises Leads To Suicides
The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, might give us a bit more of a glimpse into the unseen consequences of job loss and financial hardship. Before the recession started, European suicide rates had been dropping consistently. Then, in 2009, they shot up by 6.5 percent and remained that way all through 2011 — something that led to the deaths of 7,950 additional people. A similar trend was seen in Canada, where suicide rates had been dropping only to increase when the recession hit. There, 240 more people killed themselves.
The United States shows a more complex picture. Suicide rates had already been creeping up, but the economic crisis further accelerated them. In the end, 4,750 more people took their own lives than would have happened if the previous trend had continued. Meanwhile, Sweden, Finland and Austria — which were all affected by the recession — did not see an increase in suicide rates. This, the study's researchers believe, indicates that some of the suicides seen in other parts of the world during the economic downturn might have been preventable.
What Can We Do?
Lead researcher Aaron Reeves from the University of Oxford says that the "first thing we need to do is try and understand what exactly is driving this rise". He adds: "A critical question for policy and psychiatric practice is whether suicide rises are inevitable." Unemployment could affect a person's mental health in various ways, Reeves said, noting that stress, anxiety and depression can all develop into suicidal thoughts.
Interestingly enough, the study also reveals that most of the people who took their own lives during the recession were men, and usually middle-aged or older men. The stress of not being able to provide for their families may have turned out to be too much for these guys to handle. Rethinking gender norms might be one way to prevent a rise in suicide rates during future recessions, Reeves and his colleagues think. That doesn't help much if women are out of a job too, however.
Austria, for instance, has a solid support system for unemployed people, and we have to note that suicide rates didn't go up in that country during the recession. The same goes for Sweden and Finland. "It shows policy potentially matters," Reeves concludes. "One of the features of these countries is they invest in schemes that help people return to work, such as training, advice and even subsidized wages."
The study does come with a disclaimer, as usual. There is no proof that economic hardship and the resulting mental health issues directly caused these 10,000 additional people to commit suicide. However, this study does show that the link deserves closer investigation. In times of recession, governments will inevitably have to make difficult policy decisions. Not cutting welfare programs could be one such tough choice for governments, which also feel the strain of economic crisis. It could be a choice that saves lives.