The Deadly Recession: Dangers of a Down Economy

Over the last few years, studies have suggested a connection between unemployment and suicide rates.
08/28/2012 03:00 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2012

I woke up the other day to the awful news about the shooting outside the Empire State Building. As various news media began breaking more details, a single biographic fact of the gunman was repeated: He had lost his job.

As Mayor Bloomberg put it, "A man who had been fired from his job about a year or so began shooting near the Empire State Building on the street." The initial target of the shooting was a former coworker who is speculated to have had an altercation with the shooter. While this type of violence is obviously an unacceptable and extreme reaction to job loss, I was reminded of the psychological dangers of a down economy.

Over the last few years, studies have suggested a connection between unemployment and suicide rates. In the U.K., recent studies estimate that the economic recession may be linked to more than 1,000 suicides in 2008-2010. Similarly, Greece saw a dramatic uptick in their suicide rate since the start of their economic crisis in 2009. Studies have also linked tough economic times and joblessness with an increase in violence, especially domestic violence. There has also been an unusual spike in cases of murder-suicide in Washington, D.C.

I wrote previously about the psychological connection between suicide and the economy, after the Center for Disease Control released a study in 2011 finding that suicide rates in America rose and fell with the economy over the past 80 years. The CDC suggests that job loss can set off an avalanche of negative events including financial worries and relationship problems, "which can increase risk for suicide." Job loss can also trigger feelings of humiliation and hopelessness, which can send individuals into a depressed or desperate state. People suffering as a result of unemployment are more vulnerable to self-attacks, or "Critical Inner Voices," that in their most severe form can lead violent acts toward the self or others.

Understanding the warning signs behind suicide and violence can help us save lives. With today's uncertain economic climate, there has never been a better time to educate ourselves on these important issues.

Common behaviors that can indicate violence risk:

1. History of violent behavior
2. Substance abuse
3. Aggressiveness toward others
4. Work performance issues
5. Tendency to hold grudges
6. Relationship conflicts
7. Economic stress
8. Resenting authority
9. Talking and thinking about violence

Common behaviors that can indicate suicide risk:

1. Past suicide attempts
2. Disruption in sleep patterns
3. Increased agitation and anxiety
4. Low tolerance of frustration or outbursts of rage
5. Risk-taking behavior
6. Increased drug or alcohol drug use
7. Sudden mood change for the better
8. Any talk or indication of suicidal ideation or intent, planning or actual actions taken to procure a means

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.

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