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Suicide Increase in U.K. Linked to Recession in Study

The recession that began in 2008 may have contributed to an increase in suicides in the U.K., according to a study that echoes findings from research in the U.S. and Australia.

Suicides in England had declined for 20 years to about 4,000 in 2007 before rising in 2008. About 1,000 more people killed themselves between 2008 and 2010 than would have been expected if previous trends had continued, according to researchers at the University of Liverpool, the University of Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The British Medical Journal published the study today.

The findings provide further evidence of an association between job losses and suicides, and show that a drop in suicides in 2010 was the result of lower unemployment, the researchers said. Suicide rates in the U.S. tend to rise during recessions and fall amid economic booms, according to a study last year from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Unemployment and the unequal economic recovery in England are pressing public health issues,” the authors said in the BMJ paper. “There is a danger that the human cost of continued high levels of unemployment will outweigh the purported benefits of budget cuts.”

Great Depression

In the U.S., suicides reached a record high of 22 people per 100,000 in 1932 during the Great Depression, CDC officials said in their study, published in the American Journal of Public Health. That was double the rate seen in 2000, when 10 people per 100,000 took their lives amid a prospering economy, the study found.

Men in rural areas may be prone to suicide during times of drought, according to Australian researchers who analyzed almost 40 years of that country’s rainfall records. In addition to the financial stress of failed crops, environmental degradation caused by extended dry spells also can be psychologically harmful, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Today’s finding of a correlation between periods of economic contraction and higher suicide rates should be treated with caution, according to Keith Hawton, a professor at the Centre for Suicide Research at the University of Oxford.

“The findings do not tell us why people who become unemployed at times of recession are at increased risk,” Hawton said in an e-mailed statement. “More detailed studies would be needed to elucidate this.”

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