by Conor Friedersdorf
Annie Lowrey reports on the recession and its impact on suicides:
During the Great Depression, the suicide rate increased about 20 percent, from 14 to 17 per 100,000 people. The Asian economic crisis in 1997 led to an estimated 10,400 additional suicides in Japan, Hong Kong and Korea, with suicides spiking more than 40 percent among some demographic groups. But such statistics can mislead, social scientists say. Joblessness does not cause suicide. Rather, it correlates: Depressed persons tend to lose their jobs due to poor work performance, and a few also commit suicide. Jobless people tend to turn to alcohol, worsening their depression, and increasing the chances that they harm themselves. Still, academic studies show that suicide rates tend to move with the unemployment rate. Researchers in New Zealand found that the unemployed were up to three times as likely to commit suicide, with middle-aged men the most likely.
So how many suicides are associated with the recession? Nobody knows, not yet. The statistics lag about three years, so the official Center for Disease Control numbers still predate the financial crisis. Right now, therefore, the reports remain anecdotal. But looking at individual counties’ or cities’ data, there are ominous signs of a real spike. Some counties show no change. Others show dramatic climbs. In rural Elkhart County, Ind., where the unemployment rate is 13.7 percent, there were nearly 40 percent more suicides in 2009 than in a normal year. In Macomb County, Mich., where the unemployment rate is also 13.7 percent, an average of 81 people per year committed suicide between 1979 and 2006. That climbed to 104 in 2008 and to more than 180 in 2009.
The suicide prevention hotlines also show signs of stress.
Here's one to call if you need help.