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Are people more likely to commit suicide during recessions?

Are people more likely to commit suicide during recession? Economic recession is an inevitable part of life.  Several major economies such as United States, Russia, UK and parts of Europe have experienced recessions in the past.  According to financial sources, several countries had serious economic crisis culminating in recessions in 2016. These include Argentina, Nigeria, Venezuela, Greece, Russia, Taiwan and Ukraine.

Recently, there have been sporadic reports of suicide in these countries involving young persons aged 21-40 years. This has been a source of concern to persons who may have family member and friends living in countries in economic recessions.  Many are worried if recessions are not triggers for suicidal attempts and other forms of self-harm.

 Is recession really linked to higher suicide rates?

To determine if recession impacts on suicide, we looked at data from two systematic reviews on the relationship between suicide and depression.

One study by researchers from King’s College London School of Medicine led by Dr Mayowa Oyesanya   published a review of 38 studies in the World Journal of Psychiatry. They found that the rate of suicide was higher during economic recessions in 31 studies involving thousands of participants. Some of the studies focused on the Great recession in Russia and Asian Financial crisis, and parts of Europe such as Greece and Italy. None of the studies was done in Africa.

The other study was led by Prof Shu-Sen  Chang of the the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, University of Hong Kong and  published in British Medical Journal looked at the impact of 2008 global economic crisis on suicide rates across 54 countries. They found that up to 4900 more suicides occurred after economic recessions associated with higher job losses. Men   were more likely to commit suicide. The researchers noted that up to 196000 additional suicide attempts may have been made during the 2008 economic crisis alone.  Only one of the studies was done in an African country-Mauritius-which highlights the need for reliable data on suicide to guide policy in these countries.

These studies suggest that suicide rates are higher in high and middle income countries. However, data from low income countries is limited.

How can economic problems lead to suicide?

Economic crisis leads to mental health problems, depression, anxiety, stress, binge drinking and suicidal behaviour. It is important to note that there are usually multiple reasons, not just one, for suicide. Several negative factors may weaken an individual’s mental health and overwhelm his or her capacity to cope.

It is important to note that the way people view suicide varies greatly.

In many African countries some view it as a crime. Anyone that attempts suicide is arrested and may even be given a death penalty in extreme cases!

In Europe, it is seen as an easy way of escaping and in Asian countries it is considered an honorable way of apologizing for a blunder. In recent times, some even consider it a noble way to further a cause. This shows that culture plays a strong role in the likelihood of suicide.

What are the Warning signs of Suicidal attempts?

There are things to look out for in persons contemplating suicide:

According to experts,  a person may be at high risk of attempting suicide if they:

  • Threaten to hurt or kill themselves
  • Talk or write about death, dying or suicide
  • Actively look for ways to kill themselves
  • Talking about being trapped without seeing a way out

Do you know of anyone with any of these signs? Know that family members, friends and colleagues have a strong role to play in preventing suicides.

Never take lightly any signs of suicidality in family members.

Encourage such ones to express themselves fully and listen in a non-judgmental manner. If the thoughts persist, quickly arrange a visit to mental health experts.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, do not delay in seeking professional help.

Read: Suicide-Why do people attempt to kill themselves?

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