Economic DepressionThough it may be a morbid topic to consider, could there possibly be a link between suicide rates and business cycles?  According to a study published in The American Journal of Public Health by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there very well may be.

The study encompasses the suicide rates per 100,000 Americans for every year from 1928 to 2007 and, according to Bloomberg, is the first to link business cycles and suicide rates among specific age groups.  The correlation tended to be more present in certain age groups, such as individuals from 25-64 years old, and more or less absent between other age groups, like children and the elderly.

Bloomberg noted report findings that during the Great Depression, suicide rates reached a record high of 22 people per 100,000 in 1932.  There were also small peaks following the Great Depression, like during the oil crisis of the 1970s.  In contrast to Great Depression levels, suicide rates were halved in 2000 to 10 people per 100,000 in a prospering economy.  Suicide rates generally fell during other periods of economic expansion.

While the numbers show that there might be evidence of a correlation, The New York Times reports some arguments that researchers have made.  Several researchers have pointed out that economic hardship can raise the likelihood of suicide in people that are already vulnerable due to factors like depression and other mental illnesses.  Researchers have also possibly attributed fluctuations to improved access to care, higher standards of living, more effective drugs, and other related factors.  Additionally, cultural factors could be linked to these fluctuations.  For example, the social unrest of the 1960s might have been a source of mental stress for young Americans, causing an increase in suicide rates for that age group.  Similarly, a noteworthy increase in Social Security benefits in that same decade might have provided them with a financial cushion for the next economic slump.

Although the study does not reflect causation, it may aid in helping communities and doctors predict when suicide risk will escalate and in whom.