Increased suicide rates during a recession

Will we see increased suicide rates during this recession?

Increased rates of suicide during a recession
Increased rates of suicide during a recession

There’s no doubt about it, we’re in a global economic recession. And historically, increased suicide rates have been observed following a depression. Dr Adrian James, Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2020 said: “Recessions are terrible news for the nation’s mental health. Debt, unemployment and poverty are linked to higher rates of anxiety disorders, alcohol use, depression, and even suicide.

Trigger Warning: Talk of Suicide

The looming economic crisis will widen existing health and social inequalities and worsen the mental health problems they bring. Those already unemployed, young people, single-parent families Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities will be hit the hardest.”

Death by suicide cuts across all ages, and can run through generations in some families. My lovely blogging pal, Nathan at My Brain’s not Broken posted this informative and insightful article Suicide Prevention Awareness Month 2020 only today.

Nathan’s article was a timely reminder that it’s World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) on 10th September. WSPD aims to promote worldwide action to prevent suicides. Various events and activities are held during this occasion to raise awareness that suicide is a major preventable cause of premature death.

This is my nod to WSPD 2020, and I’ll be looking to post more on Suicide Prevention in the run up to 10th September.

Past recessions and increased suicide rate

Recession and increased suicide rates
Recession and increased suicide rates

The BMJ‘s, 2012 study concluded “that the recent recession in the UK led to about 1000 excess suicides in England: 846 among men and 155 among women. You can read about risks of suicide in men here.

Again in 2014, we saw The BMJ‘s startling headline “Economic recession may have caused 10 000 extra suicides.” It read that the 2008/2010 increased rates of suicide were “highly likely to be related to the recent economic recession.”

The Guardian, 2015 wrote “Austerity a factor in rising suicide rate among UK men. Academics from the universities of Bristol, Manchester and Oxford estimate an extra 1,000 deaths and an additional 30-40,000 suicide attempts may have occurred after the economic downturn.

While the report shows a correlation between economic turmoil and increased suicide rates, it can’t prove a causal relationship, the researchers note. It can’t prove that the people who lost their jobs or homes were the ones who died by suicide.

Can we predict and prepare for increased suicide rates

Yes, research shows that the best predictor of future behaviour or risk is past behaviour. That said, we can expect to see another dramatic increase in the suicide rates. So now we know this, we can prepare for it, prevent it even, right?

An article in The Lancet, 2020 said that mental health services need to prepare for a rise in suicides due to covid 19. The paper called for mental health services to develop clear remote assessment and care pathways, and staff training to support new ways of working.

It states that:

  • Helplines that are already established should receive additional support to maintain or increase their volunteer workforce, and offer more flexible methods of working.
  • Digital training resources would enable those who have not previously worked with people who are suicidal to take active roles in mental health services and helplines.
  • Evidence-based online interventions and applications should be made available to support people who are suicidal.
  • Governments should provide ongoing support for those who have lost employment and have financial issues as a result.
  • Mental health consequences are likely to be present for longer and peak later than the actual pandemic.
  • However, research evidence and the experience of national strategies provide a strong basis for suicide prevention.

Helplines and Crisis Centres are going to be critical in providing immediate support to everyone who needs it or to signpost individuals to local services.

Can we prevent suicide?

Suicide prevention
Suicide prevention

Yes, while the ‘powers that be’ discuss and implement policies and procedures at the top end, we can all take action to prevent suicide. Talking about suicide and staying connected with loved ones are just some of the actions we can all take to help.

Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously. If you think a friend or family member is considering suicide, there’s plenty you can do to help save a life.

Know the warning signs

Warning signs of suicide
Warning signs of suicide

If you believe that a friend or family member is suicidal, you can play a role in suicide prevention.

The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize the warning signs and know how to respond if you spot them. Especially if their behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. Watch out for the following warning signs:

  • Saying they want to die or to kill themselves
  • Drawing or writing a lot about suicide and dying
  • Seeking out ways to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain and being a burden to others
  • Expressing feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing, self-hatred
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Appearing anxious or agitated, or behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much and staying bed all day
  • Displaying exceptionable rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

If you spot warning signs of suicide in someone you care about, it’s natural to feel uncomfortable or afraid to mention suicide. Of course they might get angry with you for even suggesting it, but what’s the alternative? Anyone who talks about suicide or shows other warning signs needs immediate professional help

Know the risk factors

Man feeling hopeless
Man feeling hopeless — know the risks — Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. They can’t cause or predict a suicide attempt, but they’re important to be aware of.

  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
  • Family history of suicide, or exposure to others who have died by suicide (like in the media)
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Lack of mental and physical health care, and substance abuse treatment
  • Hopelessness. Studies have found that hopelessness is a strong predictor of suicide. People who feel hopeless might talk of “unbearable” feelings, predict a bleak future, and say that they have nothing to look forward to.
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • History of, or increase in alcohol use and other substance use disorders
  • Major physical illnesses
  • Job or financial loss
  • Loss of relationship(s)
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Stigma associated with asking for help

The above lists are by no means exhaustive. If you are concerned either about yourself, or someone you know, you must seek professional support.

How to help someone who is suicidal

Death by suicide — Image by Unsplash

If they have a plan and are ready to carry out that plan, call 999 immediately. It’s better to be safe! Tell them you’re concerned and ask if they’re having thoughts of suicide. However, your first concern must be your immediate safety. If you fear for yourself or the person who’s suicidal — call 999. If you feel safe:

  • Assess the immediate risk, like do they have a gun or other lethal weapon?
  • Ask if they have a plan, when will they do it, and do they have the means i.e. stockpiled tablets, knife. Ask the person to hand over their weapon/medication. You’d be surprised — this often works!
  • Let them know that you care, that they’re safe with you, but if you become more concerned, you’ll have to call for support i.e. their GP, or emergency services.
  • Reassurance is crucial, as people having suicidal ideation may not have much hope. Clearly state to them that suicidal thoughts are often associated with a treatable mental illness, and if you feel comfortable, you can also offer to help them get the appropriate treatment. You can also tell them that thoughts of suicide are common, and that you don’t have to act on them (MHFA).
  • Tell them that you’ll listen and do so, actively, without judgment, but with compassion. Showing that you’re listening might help them feel less alone.
  • Try not to interrupt or give them reasons why they shouldn’t take their own life i.e. their kids, their partner etc. They often think they’re a burden and feel bad enough, they don’t need further guilt-trips.
  • Ask if there’s someone you can call for them, such as a particular family member.

When someone is suicidal

Don’t leave it til it’s too late —Photo by Nathan Martins on Pexels

Take it seriously but try not to act super shocked, take a deep breath and be yourself.

Try not say:

  • “I understand how you feel” then go off on a tangent with something like “My brother’s best friend’s mum killed herself.” It’s not helpful, and you’re supposed to be listening! You could try “I can’t possibly imagine what you’re going through. Do you want to tell me a bit more?”
  • “You should tell your mum, partner, teacher.” However, you could say “Have you thought about telling ………?”
  • “Call me if you need me.” It’s a bit vague and they actually need you — like now!

And don’t lecture or argue with them, or tell them to “Snap out of it.” It’s how they feel and they’ll clam up if you continue in this way. Try open ended conversation, rather than getting a “yes” or “no” answer, like:

  • What can I do to help?
  • Tell me what’s been going on for you? I’m listening.
  • I’ll call “………..” for you, what do you want me to say?

Well, I could go on forever. Suicide and suicide prevention are such huge topics, and something that many people just don’t understand. I’ll stop here and continue my research, with the aim to put out another post in the run up to 10th September.

Over to you

How do you feel about people who chose to die by suicide? Do you think suicide is selfish, something I wrote about a while ago? Would you feel comfortable asking the question — “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” I’ve had to ask my sons in the past, and the response was devastating, despite all my knowledge and nurse training. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so I look forward to any comments or questions, and constructive criticism.


Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

38 thoughts on “Increased suicide rates during a recession”

    1. Thank you for your insightful comments, as always Mio. We only have the World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. I understand that you guys have a whole month of suicide prevention 🙂

  1. Such a comprehensive post and such good information. It’s crucial to keep talking so awareness can be raised and people know they are not alone!!! Thanks for all of the work you do. Covid compounds this issue more than ever as does the sensationalism and trends people have normalized. Good work here!

  2. I used to talk about wanting to kill myself when I was a teenager, but I think I really wanted attention more than anything. I don’t know if I would ever go that far, at least that’s what I’ve been saying for most of my adult life, but to be honest, the last six months I’ve felt more hopeless and wanting to give up than I’ve felt in a long, long, long time.

  3. I think this article is very timely, given that we are in recession and in lockdown as well. Our family support may be far away from us.

    1. You’re right Kally. Many people (including me) won’t have planned for something like Covid, financially or otherwise.

      I like to think that people realise that we need our families, and they need us 🙂

  4. Suicide is not selfish. There are so many aspects to it. I have been involved in many initiatives and issues over the years. The best ones over here are “Talk to a Mate” for men (we put posters up in toilets at work and that sort of thing) and the Rural Financial Counselling Service for people who live in country areas. The latter is not just to do with money, but all aspects of life. We also have Beyond Blue here for younger people.

    The mortality rate amongst farmers here is staggering. Some key issues are drought and what we refer to as “wild dogs.” I think drought is self explanatory. Wild dogs though more than mess with a farmers mind. It’s the whole community. Wild dogs can in a very, very short period of time wipe out 50% of lambs in a flock. Men have a bad habit of cutting themselves off very quickly. The wives or partners will still keep talking with each other, have cups of coffee and so on. So, it is about that initial connection and getting them men folk to talk and then gentle suggestions re all the wonderful support services out there. Young males and aboriginals (they have completely different issues) in this environment also have high mortality rates. Even this year Caz, I have used a couple of things on your list with two people I know that helped get them in a better place quickly.

    My last story is one where I took over as CEO of a local government, several months after an executive had committee suicide. The thing is though, this was in a very tight nit community. They were a popular person, both in the communities and at work. It was even someone I knew off and had contact with over the years. So, this incident is all around you. What shocked me though, was no one had been offered support services at work. It was still very palpable in the workplace. So, I brought in someone I know to take all staff through a process. 99% appreciated it and it did help in a big way close this sad event out.

    1. Yes, we have similar things/initiative here in the UK, which is all very well and good, but I don’t see it promoted everywhere, as it should be. Like you said: toilets, cafes, bars etc.

      Again, yes, although we don’t have as many farmers here (I’m guessing) but there’s still high rates of suicide among them. I’m glad you were able to help and support a copule of people Sean, that’s really great to hear, and it’s inspiring and instills hope.

      Oh, wow! That’s dreadful and you had to walk into that? You really are a special person Sean, getting someone in to speak with your staff, after this horrendous incident. Well done to you, and you probably helped reduce the anxiety the whole team must have been feeling.

      And that’s what every company, every employer, every Manager should be doing. I trained with MHFA England (MHFA started in Australia so I’m sure you know of it) to become an MHFA Instructor and was able to provide this intervention to many companies before I became unwell.

      I trained in MHFA Adults, Youth MHFA and MHFA for Armed Forces. Everyone I ever taught in large companies and universities loved it. I think Mental Health First Aid should be used everywhere, just like they have to have ‘normal’ first aiders!

      1. Thank you for that, Caz. It means a lot and we need to value people like you more than we do. Yes, I have heard of MHFA and discussed what they do and the resources available, and yes, there should be Mental Health First Aid everywhere.

        Some of the things I have enjoyed organising over the years are cricket matches with local communities and teams sponsored by various health bodies and a men’s health pit stop. The pit stop is quite popular as it is set out like a racing car pit stop etc. I have also been involved in things re the Black Dog Ride and I don’t even hesitate to open the door so to speak when they are riding through and make sure I put on a community get together, BBQ etc.

        Your post has made me realise that perhaps I have done a little bit more than I thought in this space.

      2. Thank you for your kind words too Sean. I started my blog some years after I was medically retired and it’s become a lifeline. I actually feel a bit more useful again.

        My word Sean, I’m guessing you’re not a ‘health professional’ but you appear have great insight into mental illness. And the way you’ve used this insight and knowledge to promote mental health in every way you have just humbles me. You should be very proud of all the work you’ve done, and I’m sure your wife and kids are too.

        You’ve really restored my faith and instilled hope that others will up the baton……… ❤️

  5. Really informative post with lots of relevant advice and tips. As somebody lucky enough to not have been affected by suicide I’m far from aware of the warning signs etc to look out for and how to react to them so posts like this are a great resource to learn from. I hope to never need what I have learned but thank you for sharing anyway…just in case 😊

  6. Sad but I do not doubt the statistics . I’m sure the increase would be similar across the would as well as here in the US.

    I do not believe that suicide is selfish. I hate it when people say that. I feel like suicide is someone’s very last resort to escape pain. Very sad.

  7. Such an important post that I’ll definitely be sharing with others.

    I don’t think suicide is selfish or selfishly motivated. At my worst, my cognitive distortions had me convinced I was doing everyone else a favor by killing myself. Of course I know that’s not true now, but it felt very real then.

    Thanks for sharing <3

  8. Those statistics are sobering. Thank you for sharing resources and tips so that we can be active in supporting our loved ones rather than just hoping the latest hotline solves things for them.

    1. Ah, what a great comment Ceridwen and I agree. People (other than those who have mental illnesses) ought to be supportive and understanding and contacting our policymakers, leaders etc to demand better mental health care.

      Most of us are exhausted with our various disorders anyway, and to add the pressure of telling them to contact policymakers etc — that can just tip someone over the edge. Trust me.

      We have had train line and roadworks for years now as they’re building a new fast train line and tidying up they area. All through the night, there’s drilling, thumping, screeching and last night, even with the windows closed, a pillow over my head and the t.v. blaring, I could still hear all the noise. I might have well been lying in the road!

      I had to fire out so many emails and tweets and it ended in tears. On top of the that, my various pains were keeping me awake, so yes, my suicidal thoughts soon morphed into a suicide plan. I was so frustrated — everything is done online now and I’m having to fill out so many damn forms!

      Having a plan frightened me because I haven’t had that for years. I tend to sit in the suicidal thoughts area. I won’t carry that plan out, I’ll sit on it for a while, and until it passes.

      Having this ideation and plan also reminds me how difficult having a mental illness is for others. That’s why I blog, hoping that perhaps my writing will help someone in some small way.

      1. I’m so sorry to hear you’re having a stressful time! That does sound frustrating, having to fill out so many forms while enduring constant disruptions to your sleep. I wish I could send you some really good earplugs through the internet. 😥

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