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Economic suicides in the Great Recession in Europe and North America

  • Aaron Reeves (a1), Martin McKee (a2) and David Stuckler (a3)


There has been a substantial rise in ‘economic suicides' in the Great Recessions afflicting Europe and North America. We estimate that the Great Recession is associated with at least 10 000 additional economic suicides between 2008 and 2010. A critical question for policy and psychiatric practice is whether these suicide rises are inevitable. Marked cross-national variations in suicides in the recession offer one clue that they are potentially avoidable. Job loss, debt and foreclosure increase risks of suicidal thinking. A range of interventions, from upstream return-to-work programmes through to antidepressant prescriptions may help mitigate suicide risk during economic downturn.


Corresponding author

Aaron Reeves, University of Oxford, Department of Sociology, Manor Road, Manor Road Building, Oxford OX1 3UQ, UK. Email:


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Economic suicides in the Great Recession in Europe and North America

  • Aaron Reeves (a1), Martin McKee (a2) and David Stuckler (a3)
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Economic Depression and Insanity

Rafael Euba, Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist
09 September 2014

Reeves et al.1 highlight in their article on suicide during times of recession a crucially important epidemiological issue. The authors note that recessions have not always been linked to a higher rate of suicide. They cite the cases of two Scandinavian countries in the nineties, in which an increase in unemployment was not followed by a rise in the suicide rate. A possible explanation is that these socio-democratic societies perhaps offered more protection to the unemployed than most other countries. In any case, history shows us that economic downturns have long been associated with mental distress, if not necessarily suicide.

The "Long Depression" started with the "Panic of 1873" and affected the United Kingdom and other economies throughout the 1870s and 80s. On the 8th of March, 1880, The Times published an article entitled "Commercial Depression and Insanity"2. It read: "Whatever moves society powerfully is surely indexed in the statistics of disease.[...]In the annual report of the Edinburgh Royal Asylum for the Insane, just issued, 43 of the admissions are put down to grief, disappointments, anxiety, and affliction. Dr Clouston, the resident physician of the institution, mentions, as a striking fact in connexion with the long commercial depression, that to 'business anxiety' are to be attributed no fewer than 24 cases, being half as often again as this cause ever before appeared in the asylum list".

The article then goes on to describe the case of a man of good character who became very depressed after sustaining heavy losses in the City of Glasgow Bank. He "took the delusion that he was a swindler", as well as nihilistic delusions that he was already dead. He stopped eating and eventually died of "sheer depression of mind". "No dramatist ever drewso true a picture of adversity overwhelming a man", concludes the article.

References:1. Reeves A, McKee M, Stuckler D. Economic Suicides in the Great Recessionin Europe and North America. Br J Psychiatry 2014; 205: 246-247.2. The Times. Commercial Depression and Insanity. 8th March 1880. Page 13.

(I have obtained permission from News UK to use material quoted from The Times).

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Conflict of interest: None declared

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