April 15, 2024

Study Ties Suicide Rate in Work Force to Economy

Experts said the new study may help clarify a long-clouded relationship between suicide and economic trends.

While many researchers have argued that economic hardship can raise the likelihood of suicide in people who are already vulnerable — like those with depression or other mental illnesses — research has been mixed. Some studies have supported such a link, but others have found the opposite: that rates drop in periods of high unemployment, as if people exhibit resilience when they need it most.

Using more comprehensive data to nail down economic trends, the new study found a clear correlation between suicide rates and the business cycle among young and middle-age adults. That correlation vanished when researchers looked only at children and the elderly. It may not be the case that economic troubles cause suicide attempts, but they can be factors.

“They did a nice job of adding a piece to a very complex puzzle,” said Eve Moscicki, a researcher at the American Psychiatric Institute for Research and Education who was not involved in the study. “It may be that when people who are more vulnerable to suicide to begin with lose a job or get a pay cut, it adds one more stressor.”

In the study, which appears in The American Journal of Public Health, researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined suicide rates per 100,000 Americans for every year from 1928 to 2007.

The overall rate fell by more than a third in that time, to 11.2 from 18.0, with most of the decline occurring before 1945. It fluctuated in the mid-1950s, trended upward through the late 1970s, and back down between the mid-1980s and 2000. Over the years, researchers have attributed this general downward trend to improved access to care, rising standards of living and better drugs, among other things.

To investigate the effect of business cycles, the researchers calculated the average rate during periods when the economy contracted and compared it with the average during the years leading to downturns. The sharpest increase occurred at the start of the Great Depression, when rates jumped 23 percent — to 22.1 in 1932, from 18.0 in 1928. The study found smaller bumps during the oil crisis of the early 1970s and the double-dip recession of the early 1980s, among other economic troughs.

The suicide rate generally fell during periods of economic expansion, with some exceptions. Rates among people in their 30s and 40s went up during the booming 1960s and actually decreased among the elderly in the severe recession of the mid-1970s.

Cultural factors played a role, the authors argue. “The social unrest and tumult of the 1960s may have added to young people’s mental stress and therefore contributed to their continually rising suicide rates,” they wrote. “For the elderly groups, the rapid increase in Social Security benefits in the late 1960s may have provided a safety net in hard times.”

Feijun Luo, the lead author of the study, said, “The findings suggest the potential to see a big increase in the rates during this current recession.” His co-authors were Curtis S. Florence, Myriam Quispe-Agnoli, Lijing Ouyang, and Dr. Alexander E. Crosby, all of the C.D.C.

Suicide is impossible to predict, and rare even in the most dire circumstances, which is why prevention programs and early treatments have had mixed results. Most address specific problems like substance abuse, depression, isolation and troubled family relationships. But this study should give communities and doctors a better sense not only of when risk is high, but in whom — working-age adults, in this case.

“Once people age out of the work force, there seems to be no relationship between the business cycle and their vulnerability,” Dr. Florence said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=dfebe24c3ee9e2d85a18f9b8f9ad72d3

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