Research conducted by sociologists and health economists at the University of Oxford in England confirms in concrete numbers what most of us feel at a gut level – hard economic times are bad for mental health. Unemployment, falling home values, and high levels of debt experienced on a mass scale contributed heavily to driving up rates of psychological depression and “economic suicide” dramatically, especially in countries with limited support resources for those suffering the most.
Study findings indicate that that at least 10,000 more Americans and Europeans killed themselves between 2007 and 2010 – during the worst of the financial crisis and subsequent recession – than in the few years prior. But Western countries did not evenly suffer rates of mental distress and suicide. Sweden and Austria, keeping their relatively strong social welfare supports intact, maintained flat suicide rates during the worst of the recession, while countries taking the austerity path of cutting or sharply restraining social welfare benefits – such as England and the U.S. – experienced significant suicide spikes.
Economic debates over the best approach to recessions aside, the public health case for a compassionate response to economic downturns seems clear. Social welfare supports save lives.