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Suicides rose worldwide after 2008 economic crisis

Updated: Sep 18, 2013 09:22 AM
© iStockphoto.com / Diane Diederich © iStockphoto.com / Diane Diederich

TUESDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Effects of the 2008 global economic crisis could be to blame for increased suicide rates in the United States and other countries, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed data from 54 countries and found a marked rise in suicides in the wake of the economic meltdown. The increase occurred mainly in men and in countries with higher levels of job losses.

An estimated 5,000 more male suicides occurred worldwide than would normally have been expected in 2009, according to the study.

The overall suicide rate among men rose 3.3 percent that year, with increases mainly in the 27 European countries (4.2 percent) and 18 North and South American countries (6.4 percent) included in the study, according to the findings, which were published online Sept. 17 in the journal BMJ.

The largest increases in Europe occurred among men aged 15 to 24 and in the Americas among men aged 45 to 64, according to a journal news release. There was no change in suicide rates among European women, while a small increase was seen among women in the Americas.

In Europe, the largest increase in male suicide rates (about 13 percent) occurred in new European Union member states Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovenia.

Data from 2010 was available from 20 European countries and showed that the rate of male suicide was nearly 11 percent higher than in 2009.

In 2009, male suicides increased by nearly 9 percent in the United States and Canada, and rose by more than 6 percent in Caribbean and Central American countries. There was a smaller increase in South American nations.

The study adds to evidence that the 2008 global economic crisis led to a rise in suicide rates in affected countries, said researchers Shu-Sen Chang, of the University of Hong Kong, and colleagues at the universities of Oxford and Bristol, in England. They said their findings are "likely to be an underestimate of the true global impact of the economic crisis on suicide."

The researchers said increases in suicide are likely only the tip of the iceberg of emotional distress related to the recession. For every suicide, about 30 to 40 people make a suicide attempt, and for every suicide attempt about 10 people have suicidal thoughts.

"Urgent action is needed to prevent the economic crisis from further increasing suicides," the study authors said. "[Job-creation programs] may help offset the impact of recession on suicide."

One expert said the stress of not having a job can lead to several factors that increase the risk of suicide.

"Unemployment appears to lead to an increase in anxiety and depression -- two psychiatric symptoms that might be intermediate steps toward suicide," said Dr. Robert Dicker, associate director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-LIJ, in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "More unemployment, more family distress, more losses [of status and friends] also most likely are involved."

"All of the above also may lead to increased alcohol and drug use, which also are risk factors for suicide," Dicker said. The fact that the increase in suicide rates was more marked among the middle-aged men in the United States also is significant, he added.

"At a developmental time when one should be settled and comfortable [with] plans for the future and retirement before them, the stress wrought by the economic crisis appears to be even more stressful for this age group," Dicker said. "With decreased available money, people may be even more reluctant to seek evaluations and treatment from mental-health providers."

Another expert was not surprised that the increased risk of suicide was greatest among men.

"Men are [still] likely to be the main earner in the family, and thus more affected," said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Men are more shamed by the loss of their job, as many men's identities are tied to their jobs, he added. They are also less likely to seek help.

"Another factor in the U.S. might have been the high rate of home foreclosures," Manevitz said. "More than a million people recently have lost their homes, about as many as did in the Great Depression when the population was about half what it is today. For most Americans, our homes are our primary investment and the locus of our identities and social support systems. When combined with the loss of job, home loss has been found to be one of the most common economic strains associated with suicides."

More information

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers advice about suicide prevention.

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