General News Research — 22 August 2012

Suicide can rise by up to 15 per cent in hard economic times, according to studies separately probing the effects of Europe’s economic crisis and of droughts in Australia.

In a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Australian researchers say they found a 15-per cent rise in the relative risk of suicide for rural men aged 30 to 49 in dry seasons.

Looking at data in NSW from 1970 to 2007, the team from Canberra’s Australian National University and other research institutions found “clear evidence” for the hypothesis that drought increases suicide in farmers and farm workers.

“The possible increased risk of suicide during drought in rural Australia warrants public health focus and concern,” they wrote, given climate change projections suggesting droughts will become more frequent and severe.

Writing in the BMJ medical journal in a separate study, researchers estimate recession may have been to blame for some 1000 people taking their own lives in Britain between 2008 and 2010.

Before the financial crisis, the suicide rate in Britain had been on the decline, reaching a 20-year low of 4006 deaths in 2007, the team wrote.

But the figures rose to 4292 in 2008 and 4388 in 2009, coinciding with a rise in unemployment, before dipping again in 2010 to 4206 as jobless figures also declined.

“We estimated the difference between the actual figures and what would have been expected if suicides had continued to fall, which they had been before the crisis occurred,” study co-author David Stuckler from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said.

The team concluded that 846 suicides among men and 155 among women over the three years may not have occurred if it were not for the crisis – representing an eight per cent rise for men and nine per cent for women from 2007 to 2008.

Both studies found a much higher rise in suicides among men than women in periods of economic stress.

This might be explained by the fact men are less likely to seek help for depression, and a large part of male identity “is about having a job”, Stuckler said.

As first appeared in The Australian, 15 August 2012


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