Suicide rates fluctuate with economic cycles, rising sharply during recessions and falling during expansions, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control.
Published online in the American Journal of Public Health, the study, “Impact of Business Cycles on US Suicide Rates, 1928-2007,” found the greatest spike in suicides during economic downturns to be among 25-64 year olds, prime working ages.
Researchers examined suicide data from nearly eight decades and among various age groups to determine relationships between incidences and business cycles.
During the Great Depression, in 1929-1933, suicide rates jumped to over twenty percent, the highest levels ever reached during a four-year period, the findings showed. The widespread unemployment and devastating stock-market crash that toppled individual savings and nationwide investments lead to the longest and harshest depression of that century.
Elevated suicide rates were also identified during the 1972-1975 Oil Crisis when an oil embargo caused skyrocketing gas prices and severe inflation. Similarly, the Double Dip Recession of 1980-1982 triggered suicides as the nation struggled with back-to-back losses in two quarters of 1980.
“Hard times create two-fold calamity—people feel that they have no future and that breeds depression. Also, they have much less resources to treat their depression and anxiety which may perpetuate the feeling of helplessness which leads to drastic behavior,” states Dr. Alexander Bystritsky, Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.
Conversely, the lowest suicide incidences were noted during WWII and 1991- 2000. In both of those periods, the nation enjoyed great expansion marked by low unemployment and rapid growth.
The data revealed a decline in suicide rates during the nearly eighty-year period to be among older Americans age 65-74 years, with the lowest rates found among 55-64 year olds.
While several factors lead to suicide, the study points to weak economic cycles as contributing triggers that may lead to negative outcomes. They urged greater programs to address problems during periods of heightened economic distress.
"Knowing suicides increased during economic recessions and fell during expansions underscores the need for additional suicide prevention measures when the economy weakens," said James Mercy, Ph.D., acting director of CDC's Injury Center's Division of Violence Prevention.
Actions suggested by the research investigators included increasing social support services to the recently unemployed and to those who have lost homes. Strategies to strengthen community connections to further promote and ensure delivery of services were also encouraged.
This was the first study conducted to determine associations between age-specific suicide rates and economic fluctuations. The findings may be particularly useful now as the nation deals with soaring unemployment, increased foreclosures and record bankruptcies.