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Financial Crisis Leads to Soaring Suicide Rates in Europe

Financial Crisis Leads to Soaring Suicide Rates in Europe

After the release of an exceedingly depressing jobs report this morning, perhaps the last thing I wanted to be reminded about was the fact that financial recessions have health consequences.  But, there it was: a team of researchers, writing in the medical journal The Lancet, described the results of an analysis of mortality rates in European countries.  The researchers concluded that rising suicide rates, particularly in countries like Ireland and Greece, can be linked to unemployment, stagnant incomes, and other economic causes.  The soaring suicide rates are disturbing in and of themselves, but they also signal a myriad of mental health issues lying just below the surface.

From a common-sense standpoint, this isn’t surprising.  When people don’t have economic opportunities, it’s understandable that their mental health would suffer.  But these numbers, taken from data from 14 EU countries in the period from 2000-2009, are particularly stark.  Suicide rates were up 17 percent in Greece and 13 percent in Ireland, two countries that have been hit hardest by Europe’s economic turmoil.  For the other countries, the rate could be as low as 5 percent.  But, tellingly, suicide rates were actually declining in the years before 2007.

The researchers were not optimistic about their findings.  ”Even though we’re starting to see signs of a financial recovery, what we’re now also seeing is a human crisis. There’s likely to be a long tail of human suffering following the downturn,” said David Stuckler, a Cambridge sociologist who worked on the analysis.  ”Suicide itself is a relatively rare event,” he added, “but wherever you see a rise in suicides there is also a rise in failed suicide attempts and in new cases of depression.”

It wasn’t all doom and gloom.  The researchers argued that the negative effects of economic crises could be mitigated by strong social support networks.  Austria, which has these networks, “had a slight decline in suicides despite an increase in unemployment of 0·6 percentage points between 2007 and 2009.”  But, strangely enough, Finland, which is also known from its social protection systems, had a 5 percent increase in suicide rates.  This hasn’t happened to the Finns in previous recessions, which is alarming.

In the end, it’s clear where new research needs to happen, and it’s heartening to see that the people who wrote this analysis are not just content with reporting the facts.  At the end of the article in The Lancet, Stuckler and his colleagues write, “In particular, we want to understand better why some individuals, communities, and entire societies are especially vulnerable yet some seem more resilient to economic shocks as well as the extent to which the very different policy responses being pursued by European governments affect health.”

So although this analysis may seem dire, it could have positive consequences in the end.  After all, the more we know about the causes of mental health problems, the more interventions governments can create to help their citizens.  This is a tough time financially, both in the United States and Europe, and anything we can do to mitigate depression and desperation can only be good.

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Photo: Tony the Misfit via flickr.

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51 comments

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10:45PM PDT on Aug 28, 2011

Quite logical!

6:35AM PDT on Jul 31, 2011

Agree with Debbie L.

3:21AM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

We need an employer of last resort program but the Republicans are dead set against anything so socialistic. John Kissane was both president of the board of directors of the local franchise of the YMCA and a job coach at Project Genesis which worked under contract with the Connecticut state rehab dept. I got services from them because I had been in a mental hospital shortly after high school for two and a half years and needed the services because I was too timid to get through a job interview. He brought me to the Y as a bookkeeper. Then he brought in as executive director a man who needed rehab because he had been framed by a corrupt district attorney. Then he brought through an army of janitors and front desk clerks. The successes took a few months to find better jobs elsewhere. The failures took a few weeks for Project Genesis to document what was wrong with them well enough to get them a Social Security disability pension. This was in 1999-2004.

9:14PM PDT on Jul 16, 2011

This just proves to show how money controls everything. Nobody knows how to live without it now.

9:38AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

When someone can't find a job for sometime, they might get the feeling that society doesn't want, or need them. Bad comments on unemployed people makes this problem worse. I once knew someone that was out of a job and wanted to commit suicide. I argued that his killing himself would only cause pain and wouldn't help anyone. He replied; "at least, it would make the unemployment rate better". I'm ashamed to admit that I had nothing to reply to this...

4:05PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Also to be considered- countries with less sunlight per year also have more depression. Maybe also the more Catholic a country the more likely people afraid of eternal damnation through suicide. Other than that, suicide makes a lot of sense. To be reduced to homelessness, and there fore "invisible", a person would feel less of a part of society, become more depressed and give up hope. Being unemployed still has the stigma of personal failure and weakness as does suicide. It would take great courage to go up to people and pan handle when all else fails.

2:59PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

The implications of the recession are so far ranging :this finding does not surprise me in the least. What does surprise me is "our" unwillingness to address this and other consequences. Another recent finding was that companies that have recovered are not hiring -because they have learned to "squeeze" more out of the employees they have (and they are afraid of a double dip which will lead to layoffs ) but what I find really disturbing is that no one asks the obvious question: what is the end result of placing such demands on employees, long term? As we all "do more with less" are companies not in danger of burning out the people they employ? And is it a matter of supply & demand: if people do suffer burn out or other serious side effects-so what-there are others ready to take their place, everyone is so desperate for a job. I think we will look back and see that most companies have long put the needs of the company ahead of the needs of their employees and that decision-a moral and ethical one-will end up having a permanent and horrible impact on society...

10:25AM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

I've been desperate and I don't have any children nor dependents.....

9:05AM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

This comes as no surprise. We have been held to ransom by the bankers and the multi-nationals who are all out to make a profit at the expense of the rest of humanity.

8:04AM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Goes without saying!

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