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.

Looking Back on the Great Depression

During the years 1929-1933 of the Great Depression, suicide rates jumped to over 20%, 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 fewer resources to treat their depression and anxiety which may perpetuate the feeling of helplessness that leads to drastic behavior," states Dr. Alexander Bystritsky, Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

Stronger Economy = Happier People

Conversely, the lowest suicide incidences were noted during WWII and 1991- 2000. In both of those periods, the nation enjoyed great economic expansion marked by low unemployment and rapid growth. The research indicated that the overall suicide rate and the suicide rates of the groups aged 25 to 34 years, 35 to 44 years, 45 to 54 years, and 55 to 64 years fell during economic expansions and rose during economic contractions.

Solution: Offer More Mental Health Support During Recessions

While several factors lead to suicide, the study points to weak economic cycles as contributing triggers that may lead to negative outcomes. They urged an increase in programs that can help 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.

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