(Corrects first paragraph to remove reference to austerity
policies, which began after the period of the study)
* Rising unemployment rates seen taking heavy suicide toll
* Study looked at historical trends to find excess deaths
* Men more likely to commit suicide, women tend to seek help
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, Aug 15 A painful British economic
recession and rising unemployment may have driven more than
1,000 people in England to commit suicide, according to a
scientific study published on Wednesday.
The study, a so-called time-trend analysis which compared
the actual number of suicides with those expected if
pre-recession trends had continued, reflects findings elsewhere
in Europe where suicides are also on the rise.
"This is a grim reminder after the euphoria of the Olympics
of the challenges we face and those that lie ahead," said David
Stuckler, a sociologist at Cambridge University who co-led the
study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
The analysis found that between 2008 and 2010 there were 846
more suicides among men in England than would have been expected
if previous trends continued, and 155 more among women.
Between 2000 and 2010 each annual 10 percent increase in the
number of unemployed people was associated with a 1.4 percent
increase in the number of male suicides, the study found.
The analysis used data from the National Clinical and Health
Outcomes Database and the Office of National Statistics.
Keith Hawton, a professor at the Centre for Suicide Research
at Oxford University who was not involved in the study, said its
findings were "of considerable interest and certainly raise
concerns", but that they must be interpreted carefully.
"It is also important that they are not over-dramatised in a
way that might increase thoughts of suicide in those affected by
the recession," he said in an emailed comment.
Stuckler, who worked with researchers from Liverpool
University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical
Medicine, stressed while this kind of statistical study could
not establish a causal link, the power of the associations was
strong. Its conclusions were strengthened by other indicators of
rising mental health problems, stress and anxiety, he added.
He also pointed out the study showed a small reduction in
the number of suicides in 2010 which coincided with a slight
recovery in male employment.
DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, ALCOHOL ABUSE
A survey of 300 family doctors published by the Insight
Research Group on Tuesday found that 76 percent of those
questioned about the effects of the economic crisis said they
thought it was making people unhealthier, leading to more
anxiety, abortions and alcohol abuse.
Data this month from the government's Health and Social Care
Information Centre showed the number of prescriptions dispensed
in England for antidepressants rose 9.1 percent in 2010.
A study published last July, also by Stuckler, found that
across Europe, suicide rates rose sharply from 2007 to 2009 as
the financial crisis drove unemployment up and squeezed incomes.
The countries worst hit by severe economic downturns, such
as Greece and Ireland, saw the most dramatic increases in
In Britain, there's little doubt times have been getting
harder. The economy has shrunk for the last nine months and now
produces 4.5 percent less than before the economic crisis.
Many Britons have had the worst squeeze in living standards
for 40 years and the crisis has hit young people hard, with
youth unemployment soaring above 20 percent.
Stuckler's BMJ study found that the number of unemployed men
rose on average across Britain by 25.6 percent each year from
2008 to 2010, a rise associated with a yearly increase in male
suicides of 3.6 percent.
"Much of men's identity and sense of purpose is tied up with
having a job. It brings income, status, importance..." Stuckler
said in a telephone interview.
"And there's also a pattern in the UK where men are three
times more likely to commit suicide than women, while women are
much more likely to report being depressed and seek help."
Hawton noted that increases in suicides at times of economic
recession had been reported before - for example in the Great
Depression of the 1930s and in the economic downturn in
South-east Asia during the 1990s.
The World Health Organisation estimates that every year,
almost a million people commit suicide - a rate of 16 per
100,000, or one every 40 seconds. It also estimates that for
every suicide, there are up to 20 attempted ones.
(Editing by Pravin Char)