The Link Between the State of the Economy and Suicide Rates

During the Great Depression, suicide rates hit their highest level ever, increasing almost 23 percent over the four years of the depression (1929 to 1933). Since then, suicide rates have consistently risen during times of economic downturns.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a study, Impact of Business Cycles on the U.S. Suicide Rates: 1928-2007, which found that suicides increased during other recessions as well. Not surprisingly, they hit their lowest level in 2000 when the economy was robust.

Suicide is a serious personal and community health issue. According to the CDC, almost 35,000 people, or 11.5 out of every 100,000, committed suicide in 2007. It's the 11th most common cause of death. People who commit suicide are most likely to use firearms, followed by suffocation and poisoning. What's even more alarming, says the CDC, is that more people survive suicide attempts than die from them.

Multiple factors usually precipitate suicide attempts; however, having a mental health condition or a history of suicidal behavior are strong risk factors. Major stressful life events, such as losing your job or your home, can also be risk factors.

At the 2011 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, psychiatrists reviewed Japan's suicide rate during its severe economic downturn in the late 1990s. They hypothesized that if increased U.S. suicide rates due to the current economy approximated those in Japan, annual suicide deaths would increase by approximately 14,600. The psychiatrists noted that this analysis was not a prediction, just a warning that we need to be cognizant of the potential mental health affect of the economy, and to develop strategies at the local, regional, and country level to provide intervention and support to those who may be at risk.

In 2009, the Chief Financial Officer at Freddie Mac, one of the key players in the recent financial crisis, committed suicide. At that time, a poll of Americans found that 61 percent felt the economy was causing stress in their lives; one-third said the stress level was considerable. Those more seriously affected by the economy were twice as likely to report high stress levels.

The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) booklet, Getting Through Tough Economic Times, offers tips for coping with economy-related distress. SAMHSA recommends keeping your financial situation in perspective, strengthening your connections with others, participating in activities you enjoy, and developing new employment skills.


Centers for Disease Control. "CDC Study Finds Suicide Rates Rise and Fall with Economy: Study looks at suicide rates from 1928-2007." Press release. Web. 14 April 2011.

Centers for Disease Control. "Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury." Web. 12 May 2011.

Centers for Disease Control. "Preventing Suicide." Web. 7 September 2011.

Cassels, Caroline. "Economic Woes and Suicide: Will the United States Follow Japan?" 

American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2011 Annual Meeting: Abstract NR04-71. Presented May 15, 2011. Medscape Medical News. Web. 19 May 2011.

ABC News. "How to cope with recession stress." Web. 22 April 2009.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. "Getting Through Tough Economic Times." Web. 31 March 2009.

Kepcher, Carolyn. "Layoffs at the office can cause more stress and anxiety among remaining employees: study." New York Daily News. Web. 30 June 2011.