The suicide rate increased 3 percent in the 2001 recession and has generally ridden the tide of the economy since the Great Depression, rising in bad times and falling in good ones, according to a comprehensive government analysis released Thursday.
Experts said the new study may help clarify a long-clouded relationship between suicide and economic trends.
While many researchers have argued that economic hardship can raise the likelihood of suicide in people who are already vulnerable — like those with depression or other mental illnesses — research has been mixed. Some studies have supported such a link, but others have found the opposite: that rates drop in periods of high unemployment, as if people exhibit resilience when they need it most.
Using more comprehensive data to nail down economic trends, the new study found a clear correlation between suicide rates and the business cycle among young and middle-age adults. That correlation vanished when researchers looked only at children and the elderly. It may not be the case that economic troubles cause suicide attempts, but they can be factors.
“They did a nice job of adding a piece to a very complex puzzle,” said Eve Moscicki, a researcher at the American Psychiatric Institute for Research and Education who was not involved in the study. “It may be that when people who are more vulnerable to suicide to begin with lose a job or get a pay cut, it adds one more stressor.”