Friday, 8 July 2011

Suicide rates rise across Europe as unemployment grows

BBC News has a revealing report on new research findings showing the link between economic crisis and mental health, specifically the rise in suicide rates across Europe during 2007-09. It reports:

'The analysis by US and UK researchers found a rise in suicides was recorded among working age people from 2007 to 2009 in nine of the 10 nations studied. The increases varied between 5% and 17% for under 65s after a period of falling suicide rates, The Lancet reported.

Researchers said investment in welfare systems was the key to keeping rates down. In particular, they argued supporting people back into work or having programmes to stop them losing their jobs in the first place was more important than giving them benefits.'

Anyone who has read the excellent book 'The Spirit Level', by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, will know about the correlations between economics and a whole range of health and social problems. It outlines, in exhaustive detail, the relationships between economic inequality and issues such as crime rates, mental health and life expectancy, making comparisons between different countries.

This fresh research indicates how mental health problems can become worse with the onset of an economic crisis. Countries especially badly hit by the crisis - such as Greece - appear to have the sharpest increases in suicide rates.

There seems to be a particular emphasis on jobs - not just people losing work, but also the fear of losing work. Unemployment and insecurity are thus both factors in worsening mental health problems, reflected in the suicide levels. BBC News says:

'During the period, there was a rise in unemployment by a third. Only Austria saw suicide rates fall. This was put down to the country being less exposed to the financial crisis than the others.

Of the risers, Finland fared best while Greece had the worst record. The UK saw a rise of 10% to 6.75 suicides per 100,000 people.'

At a time of cuts to UK mental health services, Andy Bell of the Centre for Mental Health is correct to emphasise "how important it is that we treat the mental health of people who are not just out of work but also in work but fear losing their jobs as a major public health issue". The cuts make this much harder and mean people who need support simply aren't getting it.

But what's even more important is that unemployment is brought down. The waves of job losses in the last few years are bad for our mental health. The human cost is appalling. No amount of rhetoric from David Cameron about 'national wellbeing' can change that.

BBC News report:



  1. Wilkinson reports more suicide in more equal countries.

  2. What Wilkinson and Pickett write is as follows:

    'The only social problem we have encountered which tends to be more common in more equal countries (but not significantly among more equal states in the USA) is, perhaps surprisingly, suicide. The reasons for this are twofold.

    First, in some countries suicide is not more common lower down the social scale. In Britain a well-defined social gradient has only emerged in recent decades. Second, suicide is often inversely related to homicide. There seems to be something in the psychological cliche that anger sometimes goes in and sometimes goes out: do you sometimes blame yourself or others for things that go wrong?' (p175)

    That insight doesn't take anything away from what the reseachers cited above have discovered about the link between suicide rates and job losses (or economic crisis generally). It's also worth noting that suicide rates are just one indicator of mental health, but certainly suggest a worsening of problems during a period of rising job losses. And, as Wilkinson and Pickett indicate at the start of that quote, every other major social or health issue has a correlation with not only the economic situation but specifically with inequality.