The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention: Research, Policy and Practice

By Rory C. O’Connor; Jane Pirkis | Go to book overview

16
Economic Recession,
Unemployment, and Suicide

David Gunnell and Shu-Sen Chang


Introduction

There is unequivocal evidence that economic recessions are associated with increases in the incidence of suicide (Chang, Gunnell, Sterne, Lu, & Cheng, 2009; Chang, Stuckler, Yip, & Gunnell, 2013; Stuckler, Basu, Suhrcke, Coutts, & McKee, 2009; Swinscow, 1951). The effects vary from country to country, depending on the extent to which they are affected by the recession and variations in the social protection measures already in place or introduced by governments to offset the impact of job loss and economic adversity. Likewise, the austerity measures pursued by some governments may exacerbate the effects of recession on suicide rates in countries where such measures impact those already vulnerable to the effects of recession (Stuckler & Basu, 2013).

What is less clear is the relative importance of the different aspects of economic recessions in causing the human misery that accompanies them, and which groups of the population are most affected. Although job loss and unemployment are important contributors to the rise in suicide, other factors—such as debt, house repossession, strains on relationships, rise in alcohol misuse, and cuts in health-care provision—may also contribute (Haw, Hawton, Gunnell, & Platt, 2014).

In this chapter, we provide an overview of the key epidemiological literature on associations between recessions and suicide risk. We summarize findings from studies examining major economic recessions over the last century, including the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Russian and Asian economic crises in the 1990s, and the recent global economic recession from 2007/8. We review what is known about the main mechanisms behind the rises in suicide and end by suggesting appropriate policy, public health, and clinical responses to offset the impact of economic recession on mental health and suicide.


Epidemiological Evidence

Economic recession is a period of significant decline in activity across the economy, lasting longer than a few months (National Bureau of Economic Research [NBER], 2010). These declines are usually accompanied by increases in unemployment. One commonly

The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention, Second Edition. Edited by Rory C. O’Connor and Jane Pirkis. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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