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Suicides on the Rise With Onset of Recession

by Archives January 13, 2009

Insecurity caused by the effects of global financial slowdown could be behind a growing number of suicides, say experts.
Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, says people should not be surprised if the number of suicides and mental disorders worldwide goes up as the severity of the financial crisis becomes clear.
However, at a meeting of mental health care professionals in Geneva, Switzerland in October, she warned her colleagues against blaming the crisis for unrelated suicides. “Simply because the financial crisis exists doesn’t mean we can assume a higher number of cases of depressed persons. It’s more complicated than that,” she said.
Dr. Margie Mendell, vice president of the School of Community and Public Affairs at Concordia, agrees. “Suicide is not caused by the financial crisis itself, but maybe that’s the tipping point. If you already have stress, excessive debt, precarious working conditions and you’ve just been laid off, that’s a pretty negative set of circumstances,” she said.
Relatives of a Chicoutimi couple who made a murder-suicide pact after both lost their jobs before Christmas say the pact may have been related to finances. A German billionaire committed suicide early in the New Year after he lost millions on the stock market and a businessman in California killed his mother-in-law, his wife and their three children before turning the gun on himself.
The United States National Suicide Prevention Hotline reported their service has received 60 per cent more calls this year than last.
“Fear is the number one emotion we’re hearing,” a spokesperson for the hotline told Fortune Watch – a financial blog. “People are feeling hopeless and helpless because of the economic crisis, and many feel things aren’t going to get better. Now many of the calls are from people who have lost their home, or their job, or who still have a job but can’t meet the cost of living.”
Mendell says all of these factors can lead to growing insecurities and a high level of despair among the general population. “It’s not reserved for one group – everybody is hit by this.”
However, she said that only in extreme cases, when the person is already mentally unstable or vulnerable, would suicide be the outcome.
It’s a question of how much insecurity people can cope with, she said. If a person is afraid and they feel trapped, with no one to turn to, there are a number of coping mechanisms they can use but, if they’re already pre-disposed to depression or anxiety, the addition of financial insecurity can be toxic.
Mendell says politicians and the media are partly to blame for the widespread insecurity.
“Politicians need to start an ongoing, intelligent conversation with the public,” she said. She stressed that sincere communication, outlining the details of the crisis in a clear, direct way is imperative at a time like this in order to lessen insecurities and give people some hope. “There needs to be a de-jargonization about the financial crisis – if people understand what’s going on, they won’t feel so overwhelmed.”
She said the media should provide all the necessary information in a sober way, so people aren’t terrified every time they pick up the paper or turn on the television.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Mendell quoted an old Chinese proverb, “Out of crisis comes opportunity.”
“With more information and education post-crisis, people will be less passive about their finances. They’ll make sure they have the tools so this won’t ever happen to them again,” she said.

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