Suicide rates can rise by between eight and 15 per cent in times of economic hardship, according to studies that separately probed the effects of Europe’s economic crisis and of droughts in Australia.
Writing in the BMJ medical journal, researchers estimated the recession may have been to blame for some 1,000 people taking their own lives in Britain between 2008 and 2010.
Before the financial crisis, the suicide rate in Britain had been on the decline, reaching a 20-year low of 4,006 deaths in 2007, the team wrote.
But the figures rose to 4,292 in 2008 and 4,388 in 2009, coinciding with a rise in unemployment, before dipping again in 2010 to 4,206 as jobless figures also declined.
“We estimated the difference between the actual figures and what would have been expected if suicides had continued to fall, which they had been before the crisis occurred,” study co-author David Stuckler from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told AFP.
The team concluded that 846 suicides among men and 155 among women over the three years may not have occurred if it were not for the crisis — representing an eight per cent rise for men and nine per cent for women from 2007 to 2008.
In a separate study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Australian researchers said they found a 15-per cent rise in the relative risk of suicide for rural men aged 30 to 49 in dry seasons.
Looking at data in the state of New South Wales from 1970 to 2007, the team from the Australian National University in Canberra and other research institutions found “clear evidence” for the hypothesis that drought increases suicide in farmers and farm workers.
“The possible increased risk of suicide during drought in rural Australia warrants public health focus and concern,” they wrote, given climate change projections suggesting that droughts will become more frequent and more severe.
Both studies found a much higher rise in suicides among men than women in periods of economic stress.
This may be explained by the fact that men were less likely to seek help for depression, and that a large part of male identity “is about having a job”, said Stuckler.
The British researchers argued for government policies that seek to boost re-employment for people who lose their jobs in hard times.
“There is a danger that the human cost of continued high levels of unemployment will outweigh the purported benefits of budget cuts,” they wrote.