LONDON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Suicide rates in the United States have risen sharply since the economic crisis took hold in 2007 and political leaders should do more to protect Americans' mental health during tough times, researchers said on Monday.
In a letter to The Lancet medical journal, scientists from Britain, Hong Kong and United States said an analysis of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that while suicide rates rose slowly between 1999 and 2007, the rate of increase more than quadrupled from 2008 to 2010.
"There is a clear need to implement policies to promote mental health resilience during the ongoing recession," said Aaron Reeves of Britain's University of Cambridge, who led the research and submitted it in a letter to The Lancet.
"In the run-up to the U.S. presidential election, President Obama and Mitt Romney are debating how best to spur economic recovery, (but) missing from this discussion is consideration of how to protect Americans' health during these hard times."
According to Reeves' analysis, around 1500 more people a year in the United States have committed suicide since 2007 compared to numbers that would have been expected if the 1997 to 2007 trends had continued.
The model used to analyse the data - one also recently used to estimate the effect of recession on suicide rates in England - showed unemployment may account for around a quarter of the excess suicides in the U.S. since 2007, Reeves said.
Similar rises in suicide rates have also been found in Greece, Spain, Britain and other countries hit by economic recession and rising unemployment in recent years.
"Suicide is a rare outcome of mental illness, but this means that these data are likely the most visible indicator of major depression and anxiety disorders among people living through the financial crisis," Reeves said.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Stephen Powell)