THURSDAY, April 14 (HealthDay News) -- Suicides in the United
States appear to increase in hard times and decrease during years
of prosperity, according to a new government report.
The image of people jumping from windows after the stock market
crash of 1929 graphically illustrates the pattern detected by
researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
"The overall suicide rate rises and falls in connection with the economy," said lead researcher Feijun Luo, a health economist in the division of violence prevention at the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
"The strongest association between business cycles and suicides was among working-age people 25 to 64 years old," he said.
Co-author Dr. Alexander E. Crosby, a medical epidemiologist in
the division of violence prevention at the National Center for
Injury Prevention and Control, said economic hardship may trigger
suicidal impulses in those already at risk of killing
"Suicide results from an interaction of a number of different factors," Crosby said. "Other studies have shown there is an association between suicide and unemployment, suicide and economic issues, and it can make vulnerable people more prone to be at risk for suicidal behavior," he said.
The report is published online April 14 in the
American Journal of Public Health.
The researchers found suicide rates spiked during the Great
Depression (1929-1933), at the end of the New Deal (1937-1938),
during the oil crisis of 1973-1975, and the double-dip recession of
But fewer people killed themselves during periods of economic
expansion, such as the World War II years (1939-1945) and between
1991 and 2001, when the economy grew rapidly and unemployment was
During the Great Depression, the suicide rate jumped from 18.0
per 100,000 in 1928 to 22.1 per 100,000 in 1932, which was an
all-time high. The 22.8 percent increase over that four-year period
was a record, according to the report.
Suicide rates were lowest in 2000, when times were booming, the
To prevent economy-related suicides during economic downturns,
communities might want to target programs toward working-age
people, Crosby suggested. "Communities can have more support for
those age groups that might be laid off," he said.
Providing job training, skills training and developing suicide
prevention efforts "might be things communities could do," Crosby
Commenting on the study, M. David Rudd, dean of the College of
Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah in Salt
Lake City, said that these "interesting findings confirm what many
have been thinking from an anecdotal perspective over the last
Rudd agreed that those most likely to kill themselves in bad
economic times are those already at risk of suicide.
"It's fairly well established that upwards of 90 percent of those taking their own lives suffer from a diagnosable mental illness at the time, with the overwhelming majority not being in active treatment," he said.
The difference in impact across age groups is not a surprise,
given that those hardest hit face the most pressing economic
demands, Rudd added. The youngest and oldest groups probably
experience relatively less economic pressure, he pointed out.
"Prevention efforts need to focus on recognition and more effective response to psychiatric illness, particularly in primary care settings," he said.
For more information on suicide, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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