Suicide rates in Britain in 2011 were the highest seen for 10 years, at 6047, according to the Office for National Statistics, an 8% raise in just one year. The increase is mainly seen in men, and in fact in men between their late 30s and 40s (23.5 deaths per 100,000 population in 2011), an age where one’s economic position is increasingly important. Although the data is not available with these particular statistics, other studies suggest very clearly that at times of economic stress suicide rates increase, and it would be surprising if the economic crisis was not implicated in some serious way. This is something seen in any number of public documents ( e.g. The World Health Organisation
or a major European Parliament Report (click for link)
which argued that the evidence was unequivocal, in terms of the rise in mental health issues such as depression, even suggesting that for every 1% rise in unemployment one would expect an increase in suicides of .8%.
Lots of other data from the UK and other countries is suggesting that the current economic climate is inflicting a terrible human cost. In Greece suicide rates rose 37% between 2009 and 2011 (see FT article). Other studies in Greece show an increase in depression, anxiety, panic attacks and a huge increase in referrals for child mental health issues. Another report showed that the rates of parents giving up their children to public care in Greece had increased dramatically. Typical is a recent small study which suggested that the crisis is having an effect on heart attack rates which have risen considerably, and in this case it was in women more than men. This was in a semi rural area, Kalamata, where women bear a high degree of financial responsibility. Here looking at a sample of over 20,000 patients they found that there was a huge spike in heart attacks after the financial crisis worsened at the end of 2008, even though the demographic of the patients remained the same.
Anecdotally we know in child mental health services that referral rates are increasing hugely and the criteria for crossing the thresholds and being accepted for help are getting increasingly high. What we know from a range of studies is that economic hardship has an adverse effect on the emotional wellbeing of families. This has been found to lead to harsher disciplinary styles, marital distress, more controlling and hostile forms of parenting, all of which are firmly linked with issues such as conduct disorder and attention problems. These in turn are good predictors of later criminal activity, drug use and a whole host of adverse physical and mental health outcomes.
There inevitably will be long-term effects from the emotional experiences of infants, toddlers and young children being brought up in extremely adverse environments, chickens that will come home to roost in the years to come. This is to say nothing of the terrible cost of youth unemployment, over 1,00,00 in the UK and up to 50% of young people in many European Countries. In young people in the UK we are seeing an increase in alcohol use, weight issues, sleeplessness, isolation and depression, to name but a few issues (click for link).
These are serious issues. In 2009 the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggested (see report) a range of initiatives, including continuing to invest in early intervention, and not taking easy, short-term solutions rather than longer term ones, and particularly investing now to save money for the future. This sadly is not a lesson that is being heeded.