The Great Recession has been linked to more than 10,000 people killing themselves in what a startling new study called “economic suicides.”
Examining death rates on two continents dating back to before the financial collapse, researchers attributed the devastating economic times between 2008 and 2010 to increasing numbers of people taking their own lives in North America and Europe. The team examined World Health Organization data from the United States, Canada and 22 countries in the European Union.
“It’s a fairly large and substantial increase over what we would have expected,” said Aaron Reeves, a sociologist and researcher at the University of Oxford who helped lead the study. “There are, broadly speaking, large mental health implications of the economic crisis that are still being felt by many people.”
The research team noted that the number of economic suicides might actually be higher, but may not have been reported as economy-related or due to debt or job loss.
“A range of interventions, from upstream return-to-work programs to antidepressant prescriptions, may help mitigate suicide risk during economic downturn,” the study authors wrote.
“A critical question for policy and psychiatric practice is whether these suicide rises are inevitable,” the authors wrote. “Marked cross-national variations in suicides in the recession offer one clue that they are potentially avoidable.”
While Murphy Scott did not think to harm himself, he was in despair, a casualty of the Great Recession, which applies to both the U.S. recession – between December 2007 and June 2009 – and the global recession that followed in 2009. Like millions of Americans who found themselves marooned without a job in sight, Scott was a career corporate accountant in 2008 when the economy torpedoed and his job was eliminated. He was in his early 50s, married, and living in Huntington Beach. He went to a job retraining program that was offered as part of his severance. You want depressing? It was taught by a resume coach who moonlighted as a fitness trainer and urged those who were middle-aged and unemployed to omit things that might “age them out” of an interview, such as the year they graduated from high school or college.
Scott did not share much with friends during his 20-month emotional plummet. That’s how long it took him to get a job, and even then, he chose to give up working in corporate America and downsized his expectations.
“After two years of personal hardship,” Scott wrote to friends in November 2010, “I am pleased to announce I’m back ‘among’ the employed. Gone finally is the depression and stress (every day and every night) of feeling ‘left behind’ by this monster I call the 21st century, which aged me terribly the last 20 months.
“Know I would not wish prolonged unemployment on anyone. I hope you never feel the helplessness. It is not only frustrating, but hard and unrelenting. So, I’ve made a big career change and it was not easy. Against all odds (thank you recession), I am now a professional bartender!
“I have freed myself from the four “cold” walls of an office to work among the living of the world, to enjoy and engage the public…. I’ve beaten down sidewalks and cold winds and rain, and I’ve been turned down (literally) hundreds of times because there were many unemployed bartenders and better candidates — bilingual bartenders, the young and cute bartenders, and more experienced bartenders. Many open interviews were inside crowded rooms and had lines out the door. But I did it!
“This is where I hope to be for a long time…. Remember to look at this recession as an ‘adventure.’ We will all survive. Be encouraged,” he said, trying to cheer friends who had been out of the job market for years.
He had good cause for concern, studies show. Financial woes are psychologically grueling, cause shame and plunging self-worth and can lead to major depression — and the new research has quantified the impact.
“There has been a substantial rise in ‘economic suicides’ in the Great Recession afflicting Europe and North America,” the study authors wrote. “We estimate that the Great Recession is associated with at least 10,000 additional economic suicides between 2008 and 2010.”
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate for Americans 35 to 64 years old rose between 1999 and 2010 by almost 30 percent. T
he CDC report blamed the economic plunge as well as a rise in intentional overdoses linked to the increased availability of prescription opioids as factors that triggered the suicides. It also asserted that suicide is significantly under-reported.
According to the 2013 CDC report, hanging was the fastest-growing method of suicide.
That was the method used by an anguished 23-year-old rugby player cited as an example of “economic suicide” by the Daily Mail U.K. It said Kenny Davies, one of legions of recession victims in debt and out of work, was a laborer who’d been fired from his job once the Great Recession descended. He defaulted on loan after loan. He was in debit for thousands of dollars. After a neighbor declined to co-sign for yet another loan, Davies reportedly strode into a forest, still carrying his loan application, and took his life.
Hitting the financial skids sinks many people into depression, and often addiction or relapse soon follow.
Dr. David Sack, an addiction psychiatrist and CEO of Promises Treatment Centers, said it is common to suffer the trio of conditions.
“Each problem reinforces the other,” Dr. Sack told loans.org, “and creates a cycle that can be difficult to break. These individuals are visibly weighed down by shame and guilt surrounding their drug use and its consequences, which leads to further drug and alcohol use,” Dr. Sack said. “It can become a self-perpetuating cycle.”
Reduced Economic Status
The Great Recession has led to enduring trauma for millions of people, from lowered economic status to delayed retirement and homes lost to perpetual debt.
Based on an analysis by the Federal Reserve and other government data, the average household has $7,087 in credit card debt, the blog nerdwallet.com reported. For those who don’t pay off their bills every month, that number rises to $15,191. Here are statistics behind the average U.S. household debt:
As of April 2014 — U.S. household consumer debt profile:
- Average credit card debt: $15,191
- Average mortgage debt: $154,365
- Average student loan debt: $33,607
In total, American consumers owe $11.68 trillion, an increase of 3.7% from last year. In addition, Americans owe:
- $854.2 billion in credit card debt
- $8.15 trillion in mortgages
- $1,115.3 billion in student loans
Some people are drawn into debt because of addiction and become more depressed as the bills pile up.
Greg Staffa, 38, lived through the shame if not the substance abuse.
His depression started in 2009, after a workplace injury cost him his job. After failing to make his house payments, the Minnesota resident lived for three years out of his car as depression descended.
“[Unemployment] takes a toll, especially when you add three years of homelessness on top of it,” Staffa said. “I had suicidal thoughts.”
Staffa said he was looking for jobs “not based on my qualifications, but how I felt as a person — after all, I was homeless. I started questioning my own self worth and when I am doing that to myself, how can I expect a future employer to look at me differently?
Things have improved for Staffa. He received a settlement from his former employer that allowed him to get an apartment. He’s still looking for work, however.
“Hope is a tricky thing,” Staffa said. “It can make you strive to do amazing things, but if you lose it, you’re done for.”