Suicide, long associated with the plight of the unemployed, was exacerbated by the Great Recession that put tens of millions of people out of work in the U.S. and around the world.
In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, the number of suicides worldwide directly linked to unemployment spiked by 5,000 cases, according to a new University of Zurich study. Over the past decade and a half, one in five suicides were closely associated with depression stemming from joblessness worries – or 45,000 cases a year.
The new research, published by The Lancet Psychiatry, was based on data gathered from 63 countries including the U.S. between 2000 and 2011. It found that the risk of suicide as an outgrowth of losing a job grew during the period by between 20 percent and 30 percent across virtually all regions of the world.
Carlos Nordt, a research associate in the University of Zurich’s psychiatry department and the lead researcher of the project, said that it wasn't the loss of jobs per se that prompted many of the suicides, but the highly stressful period leading up to it when employees face great uncertainty and tensions mount.
Moreover, he said the data suggests that not all job losses have an equal impact on people. In some cases, the loss of work may have a greater emotional impact on people from countries where joblessness hadn’t been a serious problem until more recently.
"Our data suggests that not all job losses necessarily have an equal impact as the effect on suicide risk appears to be stronger in countries where being out of work is uncommon," Nordt told The Lancet Psychiatry.
There has been considerable research -- both scientific and anecdotal-- linking unemployment to depression, family problems, alcoholism and other public health problems.
Unemployed workers are twice as likely as their employed counterparts to experience psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, low subjective well-being and poor self-esteem, according to the American Psychological Association.
A comprehensive study of long-term unemployed published by Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development in 2011 found that the vast majority of unemployed workers experienced stress in their relationships with family and friends and that at least 11 percent reported seeking professional help for their depression within the previous 12 months, as The Fiscal Times reported last year.
While numerous studies have focused on crisis years and examined single countries or one world region, Nordt, Ingeborg Warnke, Erich Seifritz and Wolfram Kawohl who work at the University of Zurich’s Psychiatric Hospital were able for the first time to provide a much broader picture of the problem in four global regions between 2000 and 2011.
Every year, almost a million people die by suicide worldwide. In order to find out how many suicides are associated with unemployment, the UZH researchers broadened their study to include data from North and South America, Northern and Western Europe, Southern and Eastern Europe, and Non-Americas and Non-Europe. No data was available from China or India.
“Despite country-specific particularities, we found a similarly strong association between unemployment and suicide rates in all four regions,” Nordt wrote. Moreover, a changing unemployment rate affected both sexes as well as different age groups equally.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of deaths in the United States, according to government figures. With the worst of the recession well behind this country, there may be some cause for optimism that the suicide problem related to joblessness might be abating. But unfortunately serious economic problems that are besetting the rest of the world may slow the rate of growth and recovery in the United States.
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