Rates of suicide and depression are rising in a dramatic demonstration of the human cost of Britain's economic downturn. The "alarming" evidence of the darkening national mood comes as David Cameron draws up plans to measure the sense of "general wellbeing"across the country.
The Independent can disclose that, after falling for years, the suicide rate began increasing as the credit crunch hit Britain.
A Health minister has warned that the Government believes levels of suicide and mental illness are likely to climb further as dole queues lengthen.
The number of people committing suicide rose by 329 to 5,706 in 2008 - the first increase since 1998.
The rate of suicide among men went up from 16.8 per 100,000 people in 2007 to 17.7 per 100,000 in 2008; the suicide rate among women rose from 5 per 100,000 people to 5.4 per 100,000.
New figures yesterday also underlined the financial cost of depression caused by economic pressures.
Almost 427,000 people - evenly divided between men and women - claimed incapacity benefit last year on the basis that depression makes it impossible for them to work. It is the highest figure in a decade and an increase of 15,000 on the previous year.
The condition cost sufferers an estimated£ 9.2bn in lost earnings in 2009.
The cost has jumped by more than £500m in the past year alone. Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat MP who obtained the figures, said: "Years of failure to tackle the condition is hitting us all in the pocket. It can force some sufferers out of work now and make reemployment more difficult in the future, which costs the public and private sector billions."
Alarm about the impact of the economic downturn on rates of suicide and self-harm were also raised in the Commons.
Paul Burstow, the Care Services minister, told MPs: "There is plenty of evidence across the world that in times of recession and high unemployment, rates of mental illness and suicide tend to rise."
He said the suicide statistics illustrated "in the most dramatic way the human tragedies that took place in the economic downturn".
Mr Burstow added: "We now need to ensure that economic recovery is matched by psychological recovery from a long and painful recession."
Research suggests there is a 70 per cent increase in the risk of a person committing suicide if he or she is made redundant. During the Great Depression the numbers of men taking their lives increased sharply.
A survey in May for the mental health charity Mind found the recession was beginning to take its toll in the workplace.
One in 10 employees said they had visited their GP as a result of "recession-induced stress". One in five said they had become depressed as a result of pressures at work.