A new study of New York City residents who have taken their own lives since 1990 provides strong evidence linking suicide rates with downturns in the economy.
The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found the monthly NYC suicide rate was 29 percent higher during the depths of the nation’s 1992 economic recession than at the peak of economic growth in 2000. The study did not examine suicide rates after 2006 – the year before the latest U.S. recession began.
White men under age 45 were most affected by economy, perhaps because they primarily work in occupations most exposed to economic changes, researchers said. But volatility on Wall Street was not an apparent factor in the rates, according to the study conducted by investigators at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy, the University of California San Francisco School of Nursing, and Weill Cornell Medical College.
"The reasons behind an individual's decision to take his or her life are often complex and difficult to understand, even for family and friends," noted senior researcher Dr. Sandro Galea. "It is usually a combination of forces with, for example, economic stresses on top of a strained relationship. Economic hardship can hurt a person's self-worth and limit the availability of social resources, including mental health care."
Suicide statistics were provided by the New York City Medical Examiner. The economic data came from the New York State Index of Coincident Economic Indicators, including employment and jobless trends, working hours of manufacturing workers and sales tax collections.
Researchers said the findings suggest mental health services be expanded during economic crises. "At times of economic stress,” they wrote, “people need help."
Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health.