This week we learnt that the suicide rate in the U.K. has dramatically increased. It is of course male suicides that remain far higher (18.2 per 100,000 compared to 5.6 per 100,000) and male suicides are at their highest level for 10 years. Those most at risk are men in their 30’s and 40’s.
Of course, while this is a mental health issue, it is very linked to the serious downturn in the economy. International studies have shown that rates of suicide are, for example, very linked to unemployment rates eg http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00127-010-0275-2?LI=true.
One study of rates in 35 countries found, for example that males were particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in the labour market, but that suicide rates also decreased in countries where there was higher per capita health spending http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00127-010-0316-x?LI=true.
A study in the BMJ last year made the link very explicitly. They estimated that each 10% increase in the number of unemployed men was significantly associated with a 1.4% increase in male suicides, suggesting that around two fifths of the recent increase in suicides among during the 2008-10 recession can be attributed to rising unemployment click for link.
Actual suicide rates are of course just the tip of the iceberg. Other mental and physical health problems increase in times of high unemployment. One study suggested (cf link) that levels of unemployment were causing 1145 deaths per year and a total of 221 020 cases of mental health problems and 275 409 cases of LLTI in England. Not surprisingly they found a huge north side divide, with far higher levels of mental and physical health problems in the North. Another study interestingly looked at 93 regions of the UK and found that the areas experiencing the highest levels of unemployment were the ones where suicide rates had increased the most. For every 10% increase in unemployment there was a 1.4% increase in suicide rates, which in the UK amounted to 1000 suicides. There was even a slight improvement in areas where employment rates briefly picked up, again suggesting a causal link (click for link to study . The same link between unemployment and suicide rates was also found in a recent study in Finland (click for link to study)
Worrying times., mainly of course for those at risk, as well as for our for mental health services, but the big worry is whether there really is enough worry about this, at a time when those who are unemployed are too often judged as lazy, feckless and the cause of the problem.