The economic downturn of 2007 to 2009 may be partly responsible for an increase in suicide rates in middle-aged U.S. adults, but there has been a 40 percent rise in U.S. suicide rates overall since 1999, according to a new study. The downturn appears to be related to financial concerns such as loss of retirement savings. These economic factors occurred in 37.5 percent of all suicides in 2010, which is an increase from 32.9 percent in 2005.
Researchers found that suffocation is the method most often used for suicides in cases related to economic distress, especially among the middle-aged. Suicides related to suffocation increased 59.5 percent in people aged 40 to 64 between 2005 and 2010. In comparison, suicides from suffocation increased 18 percent for people aged 15 to 39 and 27.2 percent in people older than age 65.
“Relative to other age groups, a larger and increasing proportion of middle-aged suicides have circumstances associated with job, financial, or legal distress and are completed using suffocation,” note study authors Katherine A. Hempstead, PhD, Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, NJ, and the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, and Julie A. Phillips, PhD, Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, New Brunswick, NJ. “The sharpest increase in external circumstances appears to be temporally related to the worst years of the Great Recession, consistent with other work showing a link between deteriorating economic conditions and suicide. External circumstances also have increased in importance among those aged 65 [or older]. Financial difficulties related to the loss of retirement savings in the stock market crash may explain some of this trend.”
The study relied on data from medical examiner and coroner reports, toxicology reports, law enforcement records, supplemental homicide reports, and death certificates. They divided the suicides into 17 different circumstances, which were further divided into three categories:
- personal, such as a mental health disorder
- interpersonal, such as a problem with a partner
- and external, such as financial issues.
The researchers explain that “increased awareness is needed [so] that job loss, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and other financial setbacks can be [seen as] risk factors for suicide.”
“Human resource departments, employee assistance programs, state and local employment agencies, credit counselors, and others who interact with those in financial distress should improve their ability to recognize people at risk and make referrals,” they add. “Increasing access to crisis counseling and other mental health services on an emergency basis, as is often provided at times of natural disaster, should also be considered in the context of economic crises.”