Financial Crisis, Unemployment Spur Suicides
The financial turmoil that’s swollen the ranks of the unemployed in Europe may be to blame for a growing number of suicides.
Scientists studying the link between economic downturns, joblessness and mortality over the past three decades said an early look at data for 2009 shows suicides increased in nine European countries in the year after the crisis began. Their comments were published today in the medical journal The Lancet.
Greece and Ireland, the countries hurt most by the 2008 banking crisis and sovereign debt problems, had bigger increases in suicide rates. The data suggests job troubles have caused widespread despair, one of the scientists said in an interview.
“Suicides are just the tip of the iceberg in front of an increase in depression,” said David Stuckler of the University of Cambridge. “We’re seeing signs of a mental health crisis.”
Every increase of 1 percent in the unemployment rate is associated with an 0.8 percent rise in suicides by people younger than 65, Stuckler wrote in a 2009 Lancet article that culled data from 26 EU countries over more than three decades. More joblessness was also linked to an increase in murders and a drop in traffic fatalities.
Stuckler and his colleagues said they had seen a “steady downward trend” in suicide rates in the years before 2007, which “reversed at once” as unemployment surged by about 35 percent in European Union member nations between 2007 and 2009.
The level of unemployment in Greece has almost doubled to 16.2 percent since 2008, according to Bloomberg data. Suicides there increased 19 percent to a total of 391 between 2007 and 2009, according to Stuckler. The government last week agreed to cut 78 billion euros ($112 billion) in spending to get the fifth installment of an international bailout package aimed at lowering borrowing costs in a country where debt may rise to 158 percent of gross domestic product this year, according to EU forecasts.
In Ireland, the number of suicides rose 15 percent over the same period to 527 as unemployment almost tripled since the first quarter of 2008. Ireland’s unemployment now stands at 14.1 percent as the government works to narrow its budget deficit. The state has been locked out of credit markets after investors became wary of the cost of bailing out its banking sector.
“To the extent that cuts are now being contemplated to effective mental health services and job reintegration programs, there’s a real possibility that those measures could exacerbate the risks,” Stuckler said.
Out of the 10 European nations for which 2009 data was available, only Austria had fewer suicides compared with 2007, according to the scientists. In each of the other countries, the number of suicides increased by at least 5 percent.
In the U.K., the number of suicides rose almost 9 percent to 4,245 in 2009 from 2007, according to Stuckler.
Since the 2008 downturn began, about 7 percent 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 by Mind, a U.K.-based mental health charity.
The British unemployment rate has remained above 7.5 percent for about two years, compared with a rate of 5.5 percent in January 2007, according to the U.K. Office for National Statistics. The jobless rate probably won’t drop below 7.5 percent until 2013, according to the median estimate of 12 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
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