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Accelerating suicide rate linked to economic downturn in the US

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e7638 (Published 12 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7638

An extra 4750 Americans committed suicide during the first three years of the recession, according to an analysis of national statistics. The suicide rate, which was already rising slowly but steadily, accelerated at the beginning of the recession in 2007, say researchers. Between 2008 and 2010, there were an estimated 0.51 extra deaths per 100 000 population per year (95% CI 0.28 to 0.75), or an extra 1580 (860 to 2300) suicides a year across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Further analyses suggest that unemployment could account for about a quarter of the extra suicides (1330/4750). Unemployment rose from 5.8% to 9.6% during the first three years of the recession. Each percentage point rise in unemployment was associated with a 0.99% (0.60 to 1.38) increase in the suicide rate, slightly higher than comparable figures from Europe. Trends in unemployment and suicide were correlated everywhere, but the link was particularly strong in Texas (r=0.91).

A link between recession and suicide is not inevitable, say the researchers. Sweden has managed to decouple the two in previous downturns. The US government could do more to protect the population during this recession, starting with more research into modifiable contributors, such as access to lethal weapons and drugs.

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Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7638