veterans_suicideAs the growing number of foreclosures and the value of stock portfolios hit bottom, news reports from the US of the financial fallout are growing increasingly dire.

Layoffs, foreclosures, cutbacks – there are plenty of grim economic stats out there this holiday season. Here’s perhaps the grimmest one of all: Calls to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline have soared by as much as 60 per cent over the past year.

Mental health experts say the sour economy has turned what usually manifests as seasonal blues into a full-blown crisis. The fear of losing one’s job and pressures caused by a downturn in business, demotion or pension plan cutbacks can be bad for mental health and therefore increase suicide risk.

“Fear is the No. 1 emotion we’re hearing. People are feeling hopeless and helpless because of the economic crisis, and many feel that things aren’t going to get better. Now many of the calls are from people who have lost their home, or their job, or who still have a job but can’t meet the cost of living.”

A 90-year-old woman in Ohio shot herself while being served an eviction notice. A 45-year-old businessman in Los Angeles murdered five members of his family before turning the gun on himself, saying in a suicide note that he had done so because of his troubling financial situation.

While these stories put a human face on the toll the financial crisis has taken, the Director General of the World Health Organization this may only be the tip of the iceberg. As people struggle to cope with losing their homes or livelihoods, she said, “It should not come as a surprise if we continue to see more stresses, more suicides and more mental disorders.”
To those who can recall the stories of bankers jumping out of windows across New York at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929, the correlation between a financial crisis and an increase in suicide seems quite real.

A person with depression can blame their depression on whatever has been in the news recently, so some might begin to say that they are depressed because of the financial crisis. But the financial crisis isn’t necessarily the basis for the illness in the first place.

Indeed, one study conducted by the WHO on Suicidal Behavior showed that a majority of suicides and suicide attempts committed by men were done so by those who were considered “economically active” (i.e. employed). That same study showed little annual change in numbers of suicides from 1989 to 2002, despite great economic changes after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

“Simply because the financial crisis exists doesn’t mean we can assume a higher number of cases of depressed persons. It’s more complicated than that.”