From Our 2012 Archives

Poor Economy Tied to Rise in Suicides, British Study Finds

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- More than 1,000 people in the United Kingdom may have committed suicide as a result of the 2008-2010 recession, researchers suggest.

Following two decades of decline, the suicide rate in the United Kingdom increased 8 percent among men and 9 percent among women between 2007 and 2008, according to the report published online Aug. 15 in the BMJ.

To determine if the latest recession was to blame, researcher Ben Barr, of the University of Liverpool, and colleagues there and at the University of Cambridge and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine examined data on unemployment claims as well as suicides that occurred from 2000 to 2010 in 93 regions of the United Kingdom.

After examining historical trends to assess how many of the suicides were due to the economic downturn, the researchers estimated that 846 more men and 155 more women committed suicide between 2008 and 2010 as a result of the recession.

The study also revealed that over the course of the decade, every annual 10 percent jump in the number of unemployed people was associated with a 1.4 percent increase in suicide among men.

From 2008 to 2010, the number of men in the United Kingdom without jobs rose on average by nearly 26 percent each year. This annual increase was linked with a 3.6 percent increase in suicide among men. The researchers pointed out this equated to 329 suicides related to unemployment.

"Local areas with greater rises in unemployment have also experienced higher rises in suicides, although this level was significant only among men, possibly because the suicide rates among women are only about a third of those among men. On its own, our study cannot ascertain whether the association between job loss and suicides is causal; however, the strength of the effect size, timing, consistency, coherence with previous research, existence of plausible mechanisms, and absence of any obvious alternative explanation suggest that it is likely to be," the study authors wrote in the report.

Although the findings do not prove that people killed themselves due to job losses, the study authors noted their findings could help explain why fewer people committed suicide in 2010 following a slight improvement in unemployment among men.

Barr and colleagues concluded that policies designed to reduce unemployment rates could reduce suicide risk during economic downturns and should outweigh arguments for budget cuts.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Aug. 14, 2012