|Indexed changes in adult unemployment and in age-standardised suicide rates (age 0–64 years) in old (pre-2004) and new European Union Member States; 2007 is the index year, and y-axis values represent proportional change relative to that year.|
Research published on Friday shows
that suicide rates jumped in a sample of 10 European countries during the
financial crisis, led by Greece and Ireland. Meanwhile, the number of road
accident fatalities has dipped.
David Stuckler, a sociologist
at Britain's Cambridge University, Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene
and Tropical Medicine, and Sanjay Basu of the University of California San
Francisco published their initial analysis in the
Lancet journal and said the data "reveal the
rapidity of the health consequences of financial crises."
The researchers say complete data
for the period 2000-09 are currently only available for 10 of the 27 European
Union (EU) countries: six in the pre-2004 EU (Austria, Finland, Greece, Ireland,
the Netherlands, and the UK) and four in the post-2004 EU (Czech Republic,
Hungary, Lithuania, and Romania). They combined data from countries in each
group, weighted by population size.
In the period 2007-09, the countries
facing the most severe financial reversals of fortune, such as Greece and
Ireland, had greater rises in suicides (17% to 391 and 13% to 527, respectively)
than did the other countries, and in Latvia suicides increased by more than 17%
between 2007 and 2008.
Greek unemployment doubled during
the period while the Irish rate trebled. Greece has less suicides than
Ireland, with a population 2.5 times larger.
Only Austria, which has a low rate
of unemployment just above 4%, had fewer suicides in 2009 than in 2007, with the
rate down 5%. In all of the other countries, the increase was at least 5%.
The researchers say that they
observed a downward suicide rate until 2007 and they noted that every 1%
increase in unemployment was associated with a 0·79% rise in suicides at ages
younger than 65 years. They also say that there is no consistent evidence across
the EU that all-cause mortality rates increased when unemployment rose, although
populations varied substantially in how sensitive mortality was to economic
crises, depending partly on differences in social protection.
Every US$10 per person increased
investment in active labour market programmes reduced the effect of unemployment
on suicides by 0·038%.
In the UK, the number of suicides
rose almost 9% to 4,245 in 2009 from 2007, according to Dr. Stuckler.
Bloomberg says that since the 2008 downturn began, about 7% of more than 2,000
workers surveyed in England and Wales had started taking antidepressants for
“problems directly caused by the pressures of recession on their workplace,”
such as longer hours and low morale, according to research published last year
Mind, a UK-based mental health charity.
For every suicide there are on
average 10 failed attempts and thousands of depression cases, which are much
harder to count. Dr Peter Byrne, consultant liaison psychiatrist at Newham
University Hospital in East London, told the London Independent, and he has seen
an increase in patients who have self-harmed or attempted suicide because of
"personal debt, loss of hope and uncertainty."
The researchers say that road-traffic fatalities also fell substantially,
especially in new member countries where they were initially very high. The
chart below shows three countries with high (Lithuania), medium (Hungary), and
low (Netherlands) death rates before 2008, indicating that the scale of the
post-crisis decline is related to the initial level. Thus, the rate of
road-traffic fatalities in Lithuania fell rapidly, by almost 50%. However, when
rates are already very low, as in the Netherlands, there is little scope to fall
Data published by the Irish Central
Statistics Office last week showed that 386 men and 100 women took their own
lives in 2010. Men between the ages of 35 and 44 were the most vulnerable to
suicide, with 109 men from this age group taking their own lives.
The National Suicide Research Foundation welcomed a “levelling off” in
the number of deaths by suicide but cautioned that the statistics were still
provisional and could change.
Official statistics likely
understate the number of suicides.