1. Introduction The recent economic environment has led many to speculate that there has been an increase in suicide rates due to the economy. While it may be years before conclusive data is available for this economic downturn, historical data as well as a review of Swiss Re’s reinsurance data gives some insight into the current situation. This article examinessuicide rates and some of the statistics that are available in the public sector as well as from Swiss Re’s claims experience in the United States in order to give some insight into this manner of death in light of our economy.
The economic downturn has given rise to questions about deaths due to suicide. Between 2007 and June, 2009, American net worth dropped from an all-time high of $64.4trillion1 to $50.4 trillion. In addition to the loss of net worth, unemployment in the United States has increased to a 20-year high of over 9%. Suicide rates vary by age, ethnicity, social status and gender, and overall suicide ranked as the 11th leading cause of death in the United States in 2006.2 While population statistics on suicide from 2008 won’t be available for another couple of years,speculation abounds about whether there has been an increase in incidences of suicide as a result of the recent financial crisis. Concerns that economic conditions may drive suicide rates are not new. Research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology3 suggests that for every percentage increase in unemployment, suicide deaths will increase approximately 1.3%. Similarly, Japanexperienced a rise in suicide deaths in the 1990s when this market experienced economic difficulties. An increase in suicide rates resulted as those who lost their jobs committed suicide for the insurance proceeds to protect their family’s financial well being. According to John L.McIntosh, a professor of psychology at Indiana University, no link has been shown between recent national recessions andsuicide rates, but there is a link between suicide rates and the circumstances related to recessions such as unemployment and home foreclosures. Individuals who have lost jobs commit suicide at a rate of two to four times as high as the employed.4 Similarly, a paper published in 2007 in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported that high-status individuals who lost their jobs or experienced failure ofa marriage represented the highest risk group for suicide.5 Following are some of the more compelling statistics from the United States: ̤ ̤ ̤ ̤ In 2006, there was a suicide every 15.8 minutes. Suicide rates are highest in the 50-54 age group, followed by the 45-49 age group. Men complete suicide at a rate of four times that of women. Firearms are the most common method of suicide for men whereaspoisoning is the most common method for women. ̤ It is estimated that there are 25 attempted suicides for every death. ̤ Psychological autopsies found that 90% of those who commit suicide had one or more mental disorders. Those diagnosed with depression are at a 50% greater risk of suicide, and 60% of those who commit suicide were depressed. ̤ Suicide rates are highest among the divorced,separated and widowed, and lowest among the married.6
1 Tami Luhby, CNN Money.com, American’s wealth drops $1.3 trillion, http://money.cnn.com/2009/06/11/news/economy/Americans_wealth_drops/?postversion=2009061113 2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/LCWK9_2006.pdf 3 Rhum C, International Journal of Epidemiology 2005;34 4 JoNel Aleccia, MSNBC.com, “Suicides inthe downturn raise worries about recession’s real cost,” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33738656/ns/us_news-the_elkhart_project/ 5 Jill U. Adams, Suicide and tough times: Any link, October 27, 2008, http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/27/health/he-closer27 6 American Association of Suicidology,