Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Recession caused rise in suicides

A study reveals that a total of 500 additional suicides have happened in the Ireland between 2008 and 2012, compared to the number expected had pre-recession trends continued. The study was conducted by researchers at University College Cork and confirms trends observed elsewhere.

One study of 54 countries in Europe and the Americas found that there were 4,884 additional suicides in those countries in 2009, compared to suicide rate trends before the crisis. Another research report estimated at more than 1,000 the number of additional suicides in the UK in 2008-2010. In Spain, the economic crisis has led to an 8 percent increase in suicide rates, according to one study. In Greece, reports indicate that suicides have risen by more than 60 percent since 2007. In the United States, the number of additional suicides between 2008 and 2010 has been estimated to be 4,750.

The Irish team of researchers found that male suicides account for the bulk of the 500 additional suicides. By the end of 2012, the suicide rate for males was 57 percent higher than it would have been had pre-recession trends continued, whereas the female suicide rate was almost unchanged. Male and female rates of self-harm (not involving suicide) also increased, by 31 percent (male) and 22 percent (female). In absolute numbers, this translates to 476 more male and 85 more female suicide deaths between 2008 and 2012, along with 5,029 more male and 3,833 more female cases of self-harm than if pre-recession trends had continued. Female suicide rates have thus not been affected significantly by the recession. Male rates, however, clearly increase starting in 2008, reversing the downward trend that characterized the 2000-2007 period.

Why have male suicide rates been affected more than female rates? One likely explanation is that the economic crash resulted from the collapse of a housing bubble, whose deflation reverberated even more strongly on the Irish economy than the collapse of the real estate bubble did in the United States. A lot of men working in the construction industry thus lost their jobs, and unemployment and related mental health problems lead to higher suicide rates.

The Irish study complements research on the negative health impacts of austerity, and confirms that austerity kills. For example, a recent major report published in the British medical journal The Lancet and focusing on Greece, Spain and Portugal, found that expenditure cuts led to increased "strain on their health-care systems," while "suicides and outbreaks of infectious diseases are becoming more common in these countries, and budget cuts have restricted access to health care."

In particular, in Greece, "the troika has demanded that public spending on health should not exceed 6% of GDP." Consequently, 370 specialist units have been eliminated or merged, 2,000 public hospital beds removed, a freeze on hiring new physicians implemented and "widespread drug shortages" in pharmacies have been reported. One of the authors of the Lancet report summed it up by stating that the EU is in "denial" over the health effects of the troika's austerity policies. This also applies to the Irish government, complicit in such policies.

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