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New Yorkers, Like Everyone, More Prone To Suicide In Bad Economy, Study Finds

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It's not just bank accounts that hurt.when the economy flags.

For the past 20 years, suicide rates among New York City residents have risen and fallen with changes in the economy, according to a study published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers found that when the economy was strong -- as it was in the late nineties and in the mid-aughts -- there were fewer suicides in New York. When the economy took a turn for the worse, as it did in the early nineties and following the September 11 attacks, the city's suicide rate went up.

The study, a collaboration between academics at four different medical and public health institutions, is far from the first to suggest that suicides grow more frequent in a weak economy. A growing body of research indicates that when a slump comes along -- like that which has weighed down the U.S. economy for the past several years -- it often brings a high casualty rate with it.

Last year, researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention undertook a wide-ranging analysis of national suicide rates -- spanning from just before the Great Depression until months before the most recent financial crisis. They found that suicide rates have generally gone up in times of economic distress, like recessions and oil shocks, and gone down in years when the country was prosperous.

Other research shows that suicide rates ticked up in several U.S. states in 2008, the year that cascading financial disasters nearly drove the world economy into the ground. Calls to suicide helplines also increased that year and in 2009, when unemployment climbed to heights not seen in decades and the poverty rate rose by more than 8 percent.

International studies have led to similar findings. In Europe, from 2008 to 2009, rising unemployment was accompanied by higher suicide rates in eight different countries, according to an analysis published in The Lancet, a medical journal.

Since the most recent downturn took effect, public mental health services in the U.S. have been hard hit by budget cutbacks, meaning that people suffering from the stress of unemployment or foreclosure have fewer places to turn for help. Between 2009 and 2011, state mental health budgets lost a combined $1.8 billion, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and further cuts are still to come.

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