February 11, 2015
2 min read

Unemployment linked to roughly 45,000 suicides per year

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Unemployment was associated with a 20% to 30% increased relative risk for suicide in all four world regions, according to data published in Lancet Psychiatry.

“Our findings reveal that the suicide rate increases 6 months before a rise in unemployment. What is more, our data suggest that not all job losses necessarily have an equal impact, as the effect on suicide risk appears to be stronger in countries where being out of work is uncommon,” Carlos Nordt, PhD, from the department of psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychosomatics at Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zurich in Switzerland, said in a press release. “It is possible that an unexpected increase in the unemployment rate may trigger greater fears and insecurity than in countries with higher pre-crisis unemployment levels.”

Carlos Nordt

Carlos Nordt

Sixty-three countries were selected for the retrospective study. Nordt and colleagues analyzed data from the WHO mortality database and International Monetary Fund’s world economic outlook database from 2000 to 2011.

They found that the relative risk for suicide decreased by 1.1% (95% CI, 0.8-1.4) per year between 2000 and 2011, with adjustments for the unemployment rate.

The final model estimated a total of about 233,000 suicides each year, and suicides associated with unemployment of about 45,000 – representing about 20% of all suicides, according to data.

Overall, the researchers found that 41,148 (95% CI, 39,552-42,744) suicides were associated with unemployment in 2007 and 46,131 (95% CI, 44,292-47,970) in 2009. This suggests an increase of 4,983 excess suicides, compared with numbers in the pre-crisis year (2008), they wrote.

“Besides specific therapeutic interventions, sufficient investment by governments in active labor market policies that enhance the efficiency of labor markets could help generate additional jobs and reduce the unemployment rate, helping to offset the impact on suicide,” Nordt said.

In an accompanying commentary, Roger T. Webb, PhD, and Navneet Kapur, PhD, of the Centre for Mental Health and Risk, University of Manchester, England, applaud the information in Nordt and colleagues’ report, and suggest further research to better understand other psychosocial manifestations.

“We also need to know how and why highly resilient individuals who experience the greatest levels of economic adversity manage to sustain favorable mental health and well-being,” they wrote. – by Samantha Costa

Disclosure: Kapur is co-principal investigator on an NIH research-funded grant, and a member of the Department of Health’s (England) National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group. All other researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.