2008 economic crisis could be to blame for thousands of excess suicides worldwide

September 17, 2013

In a paper published today in BMJ, researchers are suggesting that the 2008 global economic crisis could be to blame for the increase in suicide rates in European and American countries, particularly among males and in countries with higher levels of job losses.

In 2008, the International Labour Organization estimated that the number of jobless worldwide would reach approximately 212 million by 2009, an increase of 34 million compared with 2007. The World Health Organization raised concerns of the crisis' impact on and called for action to monitor and protect health, in particular amongst the poor and vulnerable.

Available studies only report data from a limited number of countries and there have been no systematic investigations into the broader international pattern or the sex/age groups and regions most affected.

In this study, the first to look at international trends in , researchers from the universities of Hong Kong, Oxford and Bristol used the latest available data from 54 countries to assess changes in suicide rates following the 2008 crisis, as well as differential effects by sex, age, country and employment change.

Data were used from the World Health Organization (WHO) mortality database, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the International Monetry Fund's World Economic Outlook database. Unemployment was used as the main economic indicator.

The researchers assessed time trends and estimated the expected numbers of suicides using former trends. They used the year 2000 as the starting point because suicide rates in some countries in the 1990s were affected by the recession in the early 1990s and the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s. The main analysis focused on suicide rates in 2009.

Different age categories were used to determine whether the impact of the global economic crisis varied amongst ages: 15-24 (just entering labour market), 25-44 (early years of employment), 45-64 (later employment) and 65+ (post retirement).

In 2009, there was a 37% rise in unemployment and 3% falls in GDP per capita, reflecting the onset of the economic crisis in 2008. All European groups experienced rises in unemployment in 2009 and 2010. Unemployment rates started rising in USA and Canada in 2008 followed by dramatic increases in 2009-10.

In 2009, the overall male suicide rate rose 3.3%, with an excess of 5000 male suicides in all countries studied. These increases were mainly seen in the 27 European countries (4.2%) and 18 American countries (6.4%) studied. The largest increase in Europe was seen in 15-24 year old men and in 45-64 year old men in America. There was no change in suicide in European females and a small increase was seen in American females.

Also in 2009, new EU member states (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania and Solvenia) showed the largest increase in male (13.3%) within Europe. USA and Canada showed an 8.9% increase and Caribbean and Central American countries showed a 6.4% increase in male suicides compared with a smaller increase in South American countries.

Rises seemed to be associated with the magnitude of increases in unemployment, particularly for males and in countries with low pre-crisis unemployment levels.

The researchers say that this study documents a "marked rise in suicide following the 2008 global economic crisis". The increases mainly occurred in men, with 5000 estimated excess suicides in 2009 compared with those expected based on previous trends.

The study adds to other evidence suggesting that the 2008 caused subsequent rises in suicide in affected countries. Several recent studies have shown an increased prevalence of depression or anxiety after the economic crisis, particularly in people who experienced unstable employment or financial problems. This is consistent with the documented increases in suicide during past recessions, such as the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The researchers say that their findings are "likely to be an underestimate of the true global impact of the economic crisis on suicide" as data were unavailable for a number of countries. Also, increases in suicide are likely to be the tip of the iceberg of recession-related emotional distress: for every suicide approximately 30-40 people make suicide attempts and for every suicide attempt about ten people experience suicidal thoughts. In the 20 European countries with available data for 2010, their analysis indicated an even larger increase in male suicide in 2010 (10.8%) than in 2009.

The researchers conclude that "urgent action is needed to prevent the from further increasing suicides" and that programmes may "help offset the impact of recession on suicide".

Explore further: US suicide rates have increased since economic crisis began

More information: Impact of 2008 global economic crisis on suicide: time trend study in 54 countries, BMJ, 2013.

Related Stories

US suicide rates have increased since economic crisis began

November 4, 2012
Suicide rates in the US have risen sharply since the economic crisis took hold in 2007, warn the authors of Correspondence published Online First in The Lancet today.

UK recession may be to blame for over 1,000 suicides in England

August 14, 2012
A paper published in the British Medical Journal today suggests that over 1000 people have committed suicide due to the 2008-2010 economic recession in the UK (846 men and 155 women).

Financial crisis drives up Greek suicide rate

September 10, 2013
Suicides increased by 45 percent during the first four years of Greece's financial crisis, a mental health aid group said Tuesday, warning there are indications of a further "very large rise" over the past two years.

Financial crisis to blame for increased number of suicides in Italy

August 21, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- The global financial crisis has contributed to an increase in the rates of suicide and attempted suicide for economic reasons in Italy, new research shows.

People with mental health problems hit harder by recession

July 27, 2013
Since the start of the recession, the rate of unemployment for people with mental health problems has risen more than twice as much than for people without mental health problems, according to new research from King's College ...

Recommended for you

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

July 24, 2017
New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness.

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Psychologists say our 'attachment style' applies to social networks like Facebook

July 24, 2017
A new investigation appearing this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests a strong association between a person's attachment style—how avoidant or anxious people are in their close relationships—and ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.