Numerous studies have demonstrated that there is a relationship between unemployment and poor health and that (the threat of) losing a job and prolonged unemployment can constitute a serious situation for those affected as well as their relatives. Pope Francis stated in 2013 Apostolic Exhortation that an economy of exclusion and inequality kills and Cambridge Professor Göran Therborn argued that inequality is literally a killing field. But beyond general discussions, the recent published paper “Modelling suicide and unemployment: a longitudinal analysis covering 63 countries, 2000-2011” just shocked me. 1 in 5 suicides is associated with unemployment.
While almost a million people die every year by suicide worldwide (terrifying number in itself), Carlos Nordt, Ingeborg Warnke, Erich Seifritz and Wolfram Kawohl from the University of Zurich’s Psychiatric Hospital aimed to enhance knowledge of the specific effect of unemployment on suicides. They selected 63 countries based on sample size and completeness of the respective data and extracted the information about four age groups and sex, from 2000 to 2011. The countries were divided into four regions: North and South America, northern and western Europe, southern and eastern Europe, and Non-Americas and non-Europe.
The findings are absolutely distressing: One in five suicides a year was associated with unemployment. In all world regions, despite country-specific particularities, the relative risk of suicide associated with unemployment was elevated by about 20–30% during the study period. The impact of a change in unemployment on suicide was stronger in countries with a lower rather than with a higher pre-crisis unemployment rate.
The study also shows that the rise in the suicide rate preceded the unemployment rate by around six months. The development on the job market was obviously anticipated and the uncertainty regarding the development of the economic situation already seems to have negative consequences. Mounting pressure at the workplace – such as through possible layoffs – can thus encourage suicides. It is also important to recognize that the problems caused by unemployment do not just have an impact on those directly affected: The results regarding suicide and unemployment show that people over the age of 65 – i.e. people who are often no longer active on the job market – are also affected.
By the way, those who temp to blame the recent economic crisis (aka “markets”) in these terrible numbers, must know that suicides associated with unemployment totalled a nine-fold higher number of deaths than excess suicides attributed to the crisis.
I fully share the researchers’ opinion that prevention strategies focused on the unemployed and on employment and its conditions are necessary not only in difficult times but also in times of stable economy. Investments in programs that integrate people in the job market and promote a healthy work climate are also essential in western countries with comparably lower unemployment rates. As well, training for specialists is needed to recognize this increased suicide risk in people both in and out of work more effectively and to help deal with the problem.
Unemployment is killing hundreds of thousands people each year. Should not the state and all of us, as a society, to do something about it? Or we just sit and wait till the wealth will eventually trickle down?.. Or until the invisible hand should be so kind to scatter it on the Plebs from the neoliberal heaven?..
Nordt, Carlos, Ingeborg Warnke, Erich Seifritz and Wolfram Kawohl. 2015. “Modelling suicide and unemployment: a longitudinal analysis covering 63 countries, 2000-2011.” The Lancet Psychiatry 2 (3): 239–245.