Study: Suicide rates go up when economic conditions sour

April 14, 2011 at 11:41 AM ET

A new and comprehensive study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, finds that suicide rates generally rise during economic recessions, and fall during periods of strong economic expansion.

The researchers examined data from 1928 to 2007, just before the Great Recession began. They found that suicide rates generally went up during periods such as the Great Depression, the oil crisis in the 1970s and the recessions in the early 1980s.

By contrast, suicide rates generally fell in periods when the economy was doing well, such as during World War II and between 1991 and 2001.

The researchers said there were 34,598 suicides in 2007, the most recent data available. That made it the 11th leading cause of death in the United States that year.

The study found that the largest increase in the suicide rate came during the Great Depression, when the suicide rate surged to 22.1 per 100,000 people. By contrast, suicide rates fell to the lowest point in 2000, at the tail end of the dot-com boom.

The researchers found the most prominent correlation between economic cycles and suicide among people ages 25 to 64 – or those most likely to be working or needing to work. The current economic downturn has been particularly hard on America’s workers, as millions of Americans have found themselves unemployed, sometimes for very long periods of time.

The findings reinforce what some local officials also observed during the recent recession, as previously reported in's Elkhart Project.

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