You've heard of 'the Great Depression', but a new paper published in the British Journal of Psychiatry from the University of Oxford and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine refers to 'the Great Recession'- the economic crisis which rocked the world, starting in 2007.
The research team have analysed recently released data on suicide from the World Health Organization, covering 26 countries across the European Union (EU) and North America. and discovered that at least 10,000 suicides - which they term 'economic suicides' - can be attributed to financial hardship. They describe this finding as 'conservative' and note that the rise in the period between 2008 and 2010 (the study period) is substantially greater than could have been expected.
The figures show that a downward trend in the rate of suicides in the EU reversed when the crisis hit in 2007 and rose by 6.5% by 2009, remaining at this level through to 2011. Between 2007 and 2010, the number rose by 4.5% in Canada, and in the USA by 4.8% for the same period.
The main risk factors were found to be job loss, home repossession and debt. Antidepressant prescription rates rose dramatically in some countries - in the United Kingdom a rise of 19% between 2007 and 2010 occurred.
One of the questions raised by the study is whether an increase in suicide rates in response to recession is inevitable. Despite the general nature of the recent recession, not all countries have experienced an increase in suicides - for example in Austria, Sweden and Finland, rates did not increase at all, despite rising unemployment. In fact, in Austria, the rate declined.
Lead author, Aaron Reeves, of Oxford University's Department of Sociology, observed:
"A critical question for policy and psychiatric practice is whether suicide rises are inevitable. This study shows that rising suicides have not been observed everywhere, so while recessions will continue to hurt, they don't always cause self-harm."The team estimates that for each US $100 spent per capita on programmes offering assistance to the unemployed, the risk of suicide could be reduced by 0.4%, and they suggest that a range of interventions, from return-to-work programmes through to increased antidepressant prescribing may reduce the number of deaths in the event of future adverse economic events.
Of course, underlying this radical response made by some individuals to economic hardship is the mistaken notion that their worth is tied up with their jobs, money and what they own. Breaking the attachment to money in a society fuelled by voracious capitalism is no small ask - but for some, such a crisis may be the beginning of a very real return to the things that actually matter.
Written by Jacqui Hogan