The study, co-authored by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, shows that suicide rates rose significantly in the EU, Canada and the USA after 2007, with the increase being four times higher among men.
By analysing recently released suicide data from the World Health Organization covering 24 EU countries and two North American countries, the researchers observed that the downward trend in suicide rates in the EU reversed when the economic crisis began in 2007, rising by 6.5% by 2009 and remaining at the higher level through to 2011. In Canada, suicides rose by 4.5% between 2007 and 2010, while in the USA, the rate increased by 4.8%.
According to the authors, job loss, home repossession and debt are the main risk factors leading to suicide during economic downturns.
Co-author Prof Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “It should be of little surprise that the austerity imposed in the wake of the global financial crisis has had enormous human consequences, with suicides rising markedly, especially among those who lose their homes and jobs. What our new paper shows is that these suicides are not inevitable, and that governments can prevent many of them with policies that, in effect, say that they care. Sadly, as we show, some governments have done precisely the opposite.”
The researchers found that there were marked differences in suicide rates across countries affected by the same recession, and that some of these countries experienced no change in suicides. For example, suicide rates remained stable in Sweden and Finland; while the rate declined in Austria, despite rising unemployment. This led them to conclude that, in theory, increased suicides during an economic crisis are avoidable.
The study suggests that nations that invest in active labour market programmes reduce the risk of suicide, and that for each US $100 (£59) spent per capita on programmes offering such assistance for the unemployed, the risk of suicide is reduced by 0.4%.
In addition, the researchers found that prescription rates for treatments such as antidepressants rose markedly in some countries during the recent recession. In the UK, a rise of 11% in antidepressant prescribing between 2003 and 2007 went up to 19% between 2007 and 2010.
Aaron Reeves, Martin McKee and David Stuckler. Economic suicides in Europe and North America’s Great Recessions. The British Journal of Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.114.144766
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine