A new analysis finds that the suicide rate among Americans increased four times faster between 2008 and 2010, after the housing bubble burst and the subsequent economic downturn began to take effect, than it did in the eight years before the Great Recession.
The medical community already suspects that economic downturns put an increased strain on mental health — recent studies in Greece, Spain and Italy have found a trend in rising suicide rates as those European countries face recessions fueled by misguided austerity policies — but this study is the first to focus on the Great Recession’s impact on Americans. After analyzing state-level unemployment and suicide rate data through 2010, researchers concluded that this economic crisis may have hurt Americans’ mental health more than any other economic event:
“The magnitude of these effects is slightly larger than for those previously estimated in the United States,” the authors wrote. That might mean that this economic downturn has been harder on mental health than previous ones, the authors concluded. [...]Researchers estimated that the U.S. suicide rate was increasing by about 0.12 deaths per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2007 — but when the recession hit in 2008, the rate began increasing by an average of 0.51 deaths per 100,000 people each year. This jump resulted in about 1,5000 additional deaths from suicide each year after 2008.
Every rise of 1 percent in unemployment was accompanied by an increase in the suicide rate of roughly 1 percent, it found. A similar correlation has been found in some European countries since the recession.
Even aside from additional deaths from suicides, long-term unemployment has also been linked to increased mortality rates. The Congressional Budget Offices notes that long stretches of unemployment are “correlated with deteriorating mental and physical health.”
The recession’s increased burden on Americans’ mental health, however, has coincided with state-level budget cuts that have slashed funding for mental health services across the country. According to a 2011 report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, states cut more than $1.8 billion for mental health resources between 2009 and 2011, putting an outsized strain on hospital emergency rooms that are often not well-equipped to deal with an influx of mental health patients.