Wes, you ask whether the increased advocacy of assisted suicide in the UK (seemingly supported, at least in some instances, by a large majority of the population, but rejected by the political class) may help explain the jump in that country’s suicide rate. Well, it’s probably impossible to rule out that explanation in a few scattered cases, but a better explanation is surely economic hard times. That, sadly, has been the case historically, and there is little reason to think that it is any different this time.
Here’s what Bloomberg News had to say back in November (in a report primarily focused on the US):
The suicide rate in the U.S. increased during the recession, a sign that rising joblessness took a toll on Americans’ mental health, researchers said.
About 1,580 additional suicides occurred annually in the U.S. from 2008 to 2010 than would have been expected based on statistical trends before the recession, according to a letter published today in the Lancet journal by researchers from the U.K., Hong Kong and the U.S. They looked at suicide mortality statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 1999 through 2010, according to the letter. The findings add to evidence from other countries that the recession and debt crisis have harmed mental health. Previous studies found that Greece and Spain, two of the countries hit hardest by the economic duress, showed increases in illnesses including depression… The U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, and averaged 8.2 percent from 2008 to 2010, according to data. From 1999 through 2007, joblessness averaged 4.9 percent.
Programs to help the unemployed find jobs, social support and mental-health programs “seem to mitigate significantly” the effects of recessions, the researchers wrote.
Or, for the situation in the UK, here’s something from the Guardian:
[According to a study published in the British Medical Journal} the suicide rate had been dropping steadily in the UK for 20 years before the recession hit, but in 2007-2008 it rose by 8% among men and 9% among women. Academics from the Universities of Liverpool and Cambridge, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, investigated the figures to try to establish whether the recession was the cause. They looked at information on suicides in 93 regions held by the National Clinical and Health Outcomes Database for the decade from 2000-2010, and also examined from the Office for National Statistics the numbers of unemployed people claiming benefits. They found that the suicide rate among men rose by 1.4% for every 10% increase in unemployment. Between 2008-2010, they say, 846 more men ended their life than would have been expected had the downward trend continued; the corresponding number for women was an extra 155 suicides.
On average, male unemployment rose by 25.6% in each of those years, while the male suicide rate rose by 3.6% each year. When male employment rates rose briefly in 2010, the suicide rate dropped slightly.
Ben Barr, of the public health department at Liverpool University, one of the study’s authors, said joblessness, financial worries, debt and housing issues were probably all factors behind the suicide rise. But he said: “There has been a large amount of evidence from other studies and other countries that shows that unemployment is a particular risk factor for suicide.”
… Clare Wyllie, the Samaritans’ head of policy and research, said the link between increased suicides and unemployment was well established. She said: “This research gives us credible evidence that the suicide rate in England is linked to the current recession. We’ve seen calls to the helpline from people worried about financial difficulties double since the onset of the economic crisis. In 2008, one in 10 calls to the helpline were about financial issues, now that’s one in five.