Suicide rise linked to recession

Recession and rising unemployment may have led to more than 1,000 suicides in England between 2008 and 2010, a study has found.

An estimated 846 more men and 155 more women killed themselves than would have been expected had previous trends continued, said researchers. For each 10% increase in the number of unemployed men, there was a significant 1.4% increase in male suicides.

The scientists calculated the number of additional suicides attributable to the recession by comparing historical records. Suicide data covering 93 English regions were taken from the National Clinical and Health Outcomes Database (NCHOD).

Rates from 2008 onwards were compared with predicted estimates if the decline in suicides seen before the recession hit had continued. A second step in the analysis assessed the association between job losses and suicides.

For each year from 2008 to 2010, the number of unemployed men across the UK rose by 25.6%. This was associated with a yearly increase in male suicides of 3.6%, corresponding to 329 suicides attributable to unemployment.

The authors, led by Ben Barr, from the University of Liverpool, wrote in the British Medical Journal: "Our study estimated that the recent recession in the UK has led to about 1,000 excess suicides in England - 846 among men and 155 among women.

"Our analysis indicates that increases in male unemployment were associated with about two-fifths of these rises in suicides among men in England during the current recession. On its own, our study cannot ascertain whether the association between job loss and suicides is causal; however, the strength of the effect size, timing, consistency, coherence with previous research, existence of plausible mechanisms, and absence of any obvious alternative explanation suggest that it is likely to be."

A small reduction in suicides in 2010 coincided with a slight recovery in male unemployment that year, the study found. The researchers warned that budget cuts could "exacerbate the consequences of the ongoing economic recession".

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We will shortly be publishing our new suicide prevention strategy, which brings together expertise across healthcare, criminal justice and transport to maintain or even decrease the current rates of suicide.

"However, suicide rates in England have been at a historical low and remain unchanged since 2005. The department uses three-year rolling averages for monitoring purposes in order to avoid focusing unnecessarily on fluctuations instead of the underlying trend."