Editorials

The economic crisis and suicide

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b1891 (Published 15 May 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1891
  1. David Gunnell, professor of epidemiology1,
  2. Stephen Platt, professor of health policy research 2,
  3. Keith Hawton, professor of psychiatry3
  1. 1Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 2PS
  2. 2School of Clinical Sciences and Community Health, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AG
  3. 3Centre for Suicide Research, University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford OX3 7JZ
  1. Correspondence to: D Gunnell d.j.gunnell{at}bristol.ac.uk

    Consequences may be serious and warrant early attention

    The past few years have seen steady progress towards the Department of Health’s target to reduce suicide in England (www.lgbtmind.com/content/suicide-prevention-annual-report-2007.pdf). However, we are now amid a serious financial crisis, with frequent media reports linking the recession to suicides. What is the likely impact of the crisis on suicide and what can be done to offset any adverse effects?

    The crisis is expected to lead to a sharp and sustained rise in unemployment, and observational studies indicate that unemployed people are at 2-3 times more risk of suicide.1 Although this high risk is partly because people with psychiatric illness are at greater risk of losing their jobs,2 even in people with no record of serious mental illness unemployment is still associated with about a 70% greater suicide risk.3 Also, prospective studies with repeat measures of employment and mental health show that unemployment has a causal influence on depression and suicidal thinking.4 5

    Longitudinal ecological research shows that rises in unemployment in the United Kingdom in the 1920s and ’30s were associated with …

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