Male suicides increased by 3.6% as joblessness rose 25%, with unemployment linked to 1,000 deaths from 2008-10
More than 1,000 people in the UK may have killed themselves because of the impact on their lives of the economic recession, according to a new analysis.
Suicides tend to rise in hard economic times, and there has been evidence of the numbers increasing in Greece and more recently in Italy as people have lost their jobs and struggled to support themselves and their families.
A paper published in the British Medical Journal suggests that the same pattern is now visible in Britain.
The suicide rate had been dropping steadily in the UK for 20 years before the recession hit, but in 2007-2008 it rose by 8% among men and 9% among women.
Academics from the Universities of Liverpool and Cambridge, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, investigated the figures to try to establish whether the recession was the cause.
They looked at information on suicides in 93 regions held by the National Clinical and Health Outcomes Database for the decade from 2000-2010, and also examined from the Office for National Statistics the numbers of unemployed people claiming benefits.
They found that the suicide rate among men rose by 1.4% for every 10% increase in unemployment.
Between 2008-2010, they say, 846 more men ended their life than would have been expected had the downward trend continued; the corresponding number for women was an extra 155 suicides.
On average, male unemployment rose by 25.6% in each of those years, while the male suicide rate rose by 3.6% each year. When male employment rates rose briefly in 2010, the suicide rate dropped slightly.
Ben Barr, of the public health department at Liverpool University, one of the study’s authors, said joblessness, financial worries, debt and housing issues were probably all factors behind the suicide rise. But he said: “There has been a large amount of evidence from other studies and other countries that shows that unemployment is a particular risk factor for suicide.”
There was a need for policies to promote employment and also to safeguard services that could help those who had lost their jobs, Barr said.
He added: “In some areas, where cuts are occurring they are affecting services that might help mitigate the effects of job loss on mental health. A lot of the charities working in the poorest parts of the country, or on mental health problems and people out of work, are potentially at risk.
“There are countries where you don’t see such a relationship [between unemployment and suicide]. Those countries tend to be those [with] good employment protection and wellbeing support, such as those in Scandinavia.”
Clare Wyllie, the Samaritans’ head of policy and research, said the link between increased suicides and unemployment was well established.
She said: “This research gives us credible evidence that the suicide rate in England is linked to the current recession. We’ve seen calls to the helpline from people worried about financial difficulties double since the onset of the economic crisis. In 2008, one in 10 calls to the helpline were about financial issues, now that’s one in five.
“There is evidence that government investment in welfare and active labour market policies can mitigate the increase in suicide during recession.
“The research also points to important gender differences in suicide. Samaritans is researching how social expectations of men contribute to the considerably higher rate of suicide in men.”