Austerity ‘had huge impact’ on suicide

Five years of economic recession and austerity in Ireland have had a dramatic negative impact on the male suicide rate and the self-harm rate among men and women, a study has found.

Kathleen Lynch: Suicide strategywon't get new funding.

In fact, the male suicide rate at the end of 2012 was 57% higher than what would have been expected had the pre-recession trend continued, with close to 500 extra deaths between 2008 to 2012.

The findings come ahead of the launch next week of the Government’s new five-year suicide strategy which Mental Health Minister Kathleen Lynch has said will receive no new funding.

Paul Corcoran, who led the research behind the new study, said their findings provide “a stark reminder of the tragic human costs of policy failure in economic management by governments and other institutions at national and international level”.

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The study, by researchers at UCC and the National Suicide Research Foundation also found a significant increase in self-harm rates, with an increase of 31% in men and 22% in women between 2008 and 2012. It cited a number of factors related to austerity, including reductions in public expenditure, cuts to welfare, substantial healthcare cuts, falling house prices and personal debt.

Entitled “Impact of the economic recession and subsequent austerity on suicide and self harm in Ireland”, the study is one of two published online today in the International Journal of Epidemiology to find strong associations between economic downturns and the rates of suicide.

The second study, by McGill University in the USA, found that the average economic downturn during a recession increased the suicide rate by 0.4%, but this effect differed according to gender, age, and education.

The authors also noted that estimating the impact of economic downturns on suicide is complicated by strong seasonal and long- term trends in suicide rates that are unrelated to economic conditions.

Despite differing levels of increased suicide mortality in the two studies, both agree that it is primarily men whose rate of suicide increases in an economic downturn. The effect of recession on suicide in Ireland appeared to be greater than in the US.

The UCC findings have shown that both sexes were affected in terms of medically-serious non-suicidal behaviour (self-harm).

There were 476 more male and 85 more female suicide deaths and 5,029 more male and 3,833 more female self- harm presentations to hospital in 2008–2012 than if pre-recession trends had continued. This is almost equivalent to an excess of one complete year of suicide and self-harm.

Men aged 25 to 64 years were affected in terms of suicide and self-harm with the greatest impact observed in 25-44-year-olds. The rise in self-harm by females was among 15-24 year-olds.

Dr Corcoran said their findings provided compelling evidence that the profound economic recession from which Ireland is now emerging has led to increased suicide mortality in men and increased non-fatal suicidal behaviour by men and women.

He said the studies highlight the need for reliable and well-standardised data on suicide.

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