Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Wednesday, 8 July 2009 16:26 UK

'Expect suicides' with recession

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Unemployment is expected to peak next year

Rates of suicide, murders and heart attacks will go up as the economy continues its downturn, experts warn.

The predictions are based on an analysis in the Lancet of economic changes and death rates in 26 EU countries over the past three decades.

Rising UK unemployment could mean at least 290 extra suicides, they say.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) says the worst of the recession is over, but that 10% of the workforce may still suffer unemployment by mid-2010.

The unemployment rate was 7.2% for the three months to April 2009, up 0.7% over the previous quarter and up 1.9% over the year.

Financial crisis causes economic hardship for many ordinary people, but it does not have to cost them their lives
Lead author Dr David Stuckler

The number of unemployed people increased by 232,000 over the quarter and by 605,000 over the year, to reach 2.26 million.

BCC expects it to peak at 3.2 million by mid 2010.

Excess deaths

The study by experts at Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shows that a 3% rise in unemployment is linked with a 2.7% rise in heart attacks among men aged 30-44 and increases of 2.4% in murders and suicides in people under the age of 64.

Deaths from alcohol abuse meanwhile rise substantially, by 28%.

At the same time road traffic deaths drop 4.2%, probably due to an increased number of people choosing to walk or take public transport rather than drive themselves, which the study authors say are "safer" ways of getting around.

And schemes to get people back to work and in jobs can mitigate some of the adverse effects, they say.

They found if a government spent above £115 ($190 or 135 euros) per person per year in active labour market programmes, a 3% rise in unemployment rate would have no effect on the suicide rate.

Mental wellbeing depends on a wide variety of factors, from employment status and conditions in the workplace to financial security, all of which can be affected during a recession
Paul Farmer of Mind

Lead author Dr David Stuckler, from Oxford University, said: "Our study suggests that investments in active labour market programmes can both help the economy and prevent rises in death.

"Financial crisis causes economic hardship for many ordinary people, but it does not have to cost them their lives."

Co-author Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said suicide rates were just the tip of the iceberg and that many more would suffer from high levels of mental distress.

A spokesman for the British Chambers of Commerce said: "Unemployment tends to come after things have been bad. There is a lag, and we expect to see a peak by mid-2010 when unemployment could affect 10% of the workforce."

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: "Mental wellbeing depends on a wide variety of factors, from employment status and conditions in the workplace to financial security, all of which can be affected during a recession.

"Life events such as being made redundant can be extremely distressing and are known to trigger depression and suicidal thoughts, along with unemployment, financial difficulties and debt.

"Redundancy can have a particular impact on men, who are thought to be more vulnerable to falls in status than women - as many as 1 in 7 men develop depression within six months of losing their jobs."



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