Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Unemployment and Youth Suicide

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Unemployment and Youth Suicide

Article excerpt


World Health Organisation (WHO) suicide data (WHO, 2000) indicate that suicide rates appear to vary by broad religious divisions: Roman Catholic and Muslim dominated countries have the lowest recorded suicide rates in the world. This is not necessarily a reporting artefact due to differences in data collection across countries, since recorded suicide rates in similar country-of-birth groups in Australia are also quite low compared to the national rate (Taylor et al., 1998b). Differences in global suicide rates can be best explained by differences in social conditions, culture, custom and history, without reference to prevailing differences or changes in levels of mental illness.

Such cross-cultural differences in suicide rates illustrate the strength of Durkheim's central thesis that suicide has broad social and economic determinants exerting themselves at an aggregate whole-population level (Durkheim, 1979). If these differences in suicide can occur between countries, then they can also occur over time within countries if social conditions change. Over the last three decades a substantial proportion of WHO countries, including Australia, have witnessed a fundamental change in their suicide rates in that younger age groups, particularly males, are committing suicide at higher rates than older age groups. This is unprecedented and certainly was unknown in Durkheim's time, where older age groups committed suicide at the highest rates. Examples of countries where youth suicide rates have increased in comparison to relatively stable rates in older age groups include Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom (WHO, 1999). By comparison, suicide rates remain highest in older age groups in countries such as France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Japan (WHO, 1999).

Australian suicide trends

All-age suicide rates in Australia over the 20th century have remained relatively stable, especially in females. Despite a spike during the Great Depression, a largely artefactual decrease during World War II in male suicide due to the exclusion of servicemen in mortality data (Taylor et al., 1998a), and an increase during the 1960s sedative epidemic predominantly in females (Oliver and Hetzel, 1972), suicide rates have remained at approximately 21 per 100,000 for males and 5 per 100,000 for females (Baume and McTaggart, 1998; Cantor and Neulinger, 2000; Morrell et al., 1993). However, underlying these general patterns are changes in age and other socio-demographic differentials. This paper focuses on suicide in the younger age groups (15-24 years) and its relationship to unemployment.

In Australia, suicide in the 15-24 year age group is second only to motor vehicle accidents as the most common cause of death in this age group (ABS, 1997). Male 15-24 year suicide rates have been increasing since the 1960s. In the 20-24 year age group male suicide rates trebled from 1960 to 1989 and corresponding female rates doubled (Cantor et al., 1996). This increase has continued into the 1990s, particularly in rural areas (Dudley et al., 1998; Wilkinson and Gunnell, 2000). In the 15-24 year age group the male to female suicide rate ratio is approximately 6:1. (Cantor and Neulinger, 2000).

High youth suicide rates are also apparent in comparisons with similar Western countries. Australian youth suicide rates rank 13th and 30th in the world for males and females respectively (WHO, 1996). In 1994 the highest rates of suicide for younger males occurred in the Russian Federation, Lithuania, Finland and Latvia (WHO, 1996). For females, the highest rates occur in (rural) China, Lithuania, Kazakstan, Singapore and Estonia (WHO, 1996).

The most common methods of suicide in young males in Australia are hanging, motor vehicle exhaust gas and firearms (Cantor and Neulinger, 2000). Hanging has increased as the most common method since the 1980s, as has motor vehicle exhaust gas, while suicide by firearms has decreased. …

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