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Suicide rates rocket in wake of economic downturn recession


Suicide rates have rocketed since the economic downturn, with the biggest rise in areas suffering most unemployment, new research reveals.

Around 13,000 people committed suicide in England between 2008 and 2010 – 1,000 more than expected – after a 20-year low in 2007. Men accounted for 85 per cent of these extra deaths – two fifths of which were directly associated to job losses, according to the research published in the British Medical Journal.

Before the recession, which began in 2008, suicides rates in England had fallen every year since 2000, with an average of 83 fewer deaths annually. Although suicides began to decline again in 2010, coinciding with a slight fall in unemployment, the numbers are still higher than 2007.

The research analysed suicide data and unemployment figures from 93 counties and local authorities across England. In general, the areas which have had the biggest increase in new unemployed, especially men, have had the most extra suicides.

For example, the number of people claiming jobseekers allowance in north and north-east Somerset and south Gloucestershire doubled over the three years and suicides increased by 50 per cent. Unemployment increased by 24 per cent in Outer London, and suicides by 9 per cent.

The figures should not come as a great surprise to the Government – the link between suicides and economic recessions is well known. There is also strong evidence to suggest the risks are mitigated and people protected in countries which have good employment programmes and social support, such as Sweden.

Debt, a drop in income, and housing problems associated with the recession are also likely to increase the risk of suicide, according to Ben Barr, of the University of Liverpool.

Beth Murphy, head of information for the mental health charity Mind, said the problems were being exacerbated because mental health services were still seen as a soft option for cuts.

"People with mental health problems are being squeezed on all sides, as they face cuts to benefits and services as well as a very challenging job market. This situation can be very distressing, potentially making mental health problems worse and, in some cases, triggering suicidal thoughts," she said.

"While we understand the Government has had to make difficult financial decisions because of the recession, this research serves to reinforce our concerns that cuts to local services are leaving people more vulnerable than ever. This is particularly true for areas where unemployment is high and mental health support service numbers are low."

The share of households in Britain whose income is not enough to pay their bills has risen from 14 per cent a year ago to 16 per cent, Legal and General's Money Mood survey has found.