Suicide rise is linked to economy, says study

A staggering rise in the number of Irish men taking their own lives is clearly linked to the recession, according to a leading expert on mental health.

Figures released yesterday by the CSO confirm research showing that 80% of those who take their own lives in Ireland are men, many of them in their 30s.

The CSO Report on Vital Statistics for 2009 shows 443 male suicides that year, a 15% increase on 2008. In contrast, female suicide deaths fell by 9%.

The report tallies with a study by the National Suicide Research Foundation which looked at 190 cases of suicide in Cork City and county between Sep 2008, when the economy imploded, and Mar 2011.

It found that the victims were predominantly men, with an average age of 36.

“It wasn’t a coincidence. Almost 40% were unemployed, and 32% worked in construction,” said NSRF research director Ella Arensman.

“Our study shows and the CSO figures confirm that suicides among men in Ireland rose sharply as the economy went into severe recession.”

Describing the huge rise in male suicide as “shocking and extraordinary”, Ms Arensman said that, in all her years conducting research into suicide and self-harm, she had never seen such a strong correlation between economic difficulties and mental health.

“I have been working in this area for a long time. Before our analysis, I would have expected some effect from the recession but my expectations were doubled. I have never witnessed such a fast effect of recession on so many aspects of life.

“Although there are often underlying causes like alcohol abuse [or] relationship problems, it is clear that the recession is largely responsible for this increase.”

Greece and Italy also showed heightened rates of suicide between 2007 and 2009 when economic hardship took hold in those countries.

“Financial crisis puts the lives of ordinary people at risk, but much more dangerous is when there are radical cuts to social protection,” said David Stuckler, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge, who led a study that found a sharp rise in suicides in European countries badly hit by recession.

His study of suicide trends in Europe shows an increase since 2008 in all countries except Austria. Ireland and Greece, the two countries that experienced the most severe economic downturns, also recorded the largest increase in suicide rates — up 15% in Ireland and up 17% in Greece.

“Austerity can turn a crisis into an epidemic,” said Mr Stuckler, whose research paper was published in British medical journal The Lancet.

* For information and advice see www.nsrf.ie,www.aware.ie,and www.samaritans.org

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