It’s not just bank accounts that suffer during a recession: Economic crises can also take a human toll.
A new study has found that suicide rates increased in North America and Europe during the recent economic recession, resulting in at least 10,000 additional deaths between 2008 and 2010.
For the study, which was published this week in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers at Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at World Health Organization data from 24 European Union countries, the U.S. and Canada. The researchers used 2007 as their pre-recession baseline, and looked at how suicide rates changed in different countries in the years that followed.
In the U.S., where suicides were already on the rise before 2007, the suicide rate jumped by 4.8 percent between 2007 and 2010, the researchers found. The suicide rate in nearly every European country also increased during the same time period.
The study noted that losing a job, having a home repossessed or being in debt are the primary reasons for suicide during an economic downturn.
However, the study also found that some European countries (like Sweden and Austria) didn’t see a higher rate of citizen suicide during the recession. Researchers hypothesized that social programs may have played a part in this phenomenon.
“One of the features of these countries is they invest in schemes that help people return to work, such as training, advice and even subsidized wages,” lead researcher Aaron Reeves, a sociologist at Oxford, told the BBC.
Of course, just because a recession coincides with higher suicide rates doesn’t mean those people who lost their jobs or their houses were the same ones who killed themselves. In other words, as the saying goes, correlation doesn’t imply causation. Some studies have found no link between economic downturns and suicides.
However, there's also other evidence that stock market plunges have historically been linked with greater numbers of suicides. And economic hardship and increased suicides have been correlated on a smaller scale, as well. HuffPost reported in April on a different research paper that found that state suicide rates increased when state rates of home foreclosure went up. The study also found the suicide risk was particularly high for homeowners who were middle-aged.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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