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For Immediate Release: April 14, 2011
Contact: CDC Online Newsroom
(404) 639-3286

CDC Study Finds Suicide Rates Rise and Fall with Economy

Study looks at suicide rates from 1928–2007

The overall suicide rate rises and falls in connection with the economy, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released online today by the American Journal of Public Health. The study, "Impact of Business Cycles on the U.S. Suicide Rates, 1928–2007" is the first to examine the relationships between age-specific suicide rates and business cycles. The study found the strongest association between business cycles and suicide among people in prime working ages, 25-64 years old.

"Knowing suicides increased during economic recessions and fell during expansions underscores the need for additional suicide prevention measures when the economy weakens," said James Mercy, Ph.D., acting director of CDC's Injury Center's Division of Violence Prevention. "It is an important finding for policy makers and those working to prevent suicide."

Other study findings:

  • The overall suicide rate generally rose in recessions like the Great Depression (1929-1933), the end of the New Deal (1937-1938), the Oil Crisis (1973-1975), and the Double-Dip Recession (1980-1982) and fell in expansions like the WWII period (1939-1945) and the longest expansion period (1991-2001) in which the economy experienced fast growth and low unemployment.

  • The largest increase in the overall suicide rate occurred in the Great Depression (1929-1933)—it surged from 18.0 in 1928 to 22.1 (all-time high) in 1932 (the last full year in the Great Depression)—a record increase of 22.8% in any four-year period in history. It fell to the lowest point in 2000.

  • Suicide rates of two elderly groups (65-74 years and 75 years and older) and the oldest middle-age group (55-64) experienced the most significant decline from 1928 to 2007.

"Economic problems can impact how people feel about themselves and their futures as well as their relationships with family and friends. Economic downturns can also disrupt entire communities," said Feijun Luo, Ph.D., an economist in CDC's Division of Violence Prevention and the study's lead author. "We know suicide is not caused by any one factor – it is often a combination of many that lead to suicide. But there are many opportunities for prevention. Prevention strategies can focus on individuals, families, neighborhoods or entire communities to reduce risk factors."

Strategies include:

  • Providing social support and counseling services to those who lose jobs or homes
  • Promoting individual, family, and community connectedness, ie greater degrees of social integration (e.g., number of friends, high frequency of social contact, low levels of social isolation or loneliness); positive attachments to community organizations like schools and churches; and formal relationships between support services and referring organizations help ensure services are actually delivered and promote a clients' well-being (as in the case of the primary care system and the mental health system) all serve as protective factors against suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
  • Increasing the accessibility of prevention services (e.g., crisis centers and other community services).

There may also be specific communities where prevention programs could be of greatest need (e.g., in those areas disproportionately affected by recessions).

News media may obtain a copy of the study by contacting APHA at 202-777-2511 or emailing Patricia.Warin@apha.org.

CDC's Injury Center works to prevent injuries and violence and their adverse health consequences. For more information about suicide prevention, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/suicide.

For a listing of evidence-based prevention interventions for suicide, please visit http://www2.sprc.org/bpr/section-i-evidence-based-programs.

For more information about these recommendations and tips for covering suicide visit Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media (http://www.afsp.org).

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

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