Did the Economy Affect Suicide?

New report finds suicide rate increases beginning in 2008

Posted Nov 07, 2012

When I started working at the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) in the fall of 2008, there were many people—myself included—just so grateful to be employed.

The United States was confronting the impact of the economic crisis we’re still dealing with today. Many who had never before faced unemployment were coming to terms with job loss. Those who had invested retirement savings in the stock market were coping with the meaning of delaying retirement. Emotionally and financially, the country was depressed.

Many wondered: How had the shifting economy affected suicide?

As a resource center for the nation, we at SPRC received many calls in late 2008 and early 2009 asking for speculations about the impact of the economic downturn on suicide rates.

At the time, the organization prepared a brief on what we did know from research about the relationship between the economy, unemployment, and suicide.

But, we knew the real question was not about the relationship, but about rates.

And, at the time, we didn’t have a clear answer. Our standard response was to say that we didn’t have those data yet—which was 100 percent accurate. Data from 2008 and 2009 would not be available for at least two, maybe three years.

Which brings us to today.

A study examining suicide rates between 2008 and 2010 found that the nation’s suicide rate, which had been holding pretty steady from 1999 through 2007, rose beginning in 2008.

Study authors found an association between the rise in unemployment and the rise in the rate of suicide deaths, and call for programs that help support building resilience, citing the experience of countries that have faced economic downturns without an associated increase in the suicide rate.

With that said, much of what we knew in 2008 remains true today, most importantly that while unemployment contributes to suicide risk, an economy in flux does not cause suicide.

I’m glad to see these data reported, as I think this issue is incredibly important. It’s critical for those working on a national response to suicide prevention, as well as on state-specific efforts, to know that, yes, suicide did increase at the same time as the economy suffered. What we do with that information, though, is more important than the information itself.

Putting into place supports to help people facing unemployment, dramatic financial setbacks, foreclosure, and other effects of the economic downturn seems more important than ever. The best thing we can do is use these data to mount a response focused on prevention.

Copyright 2012 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved