In a result that I doubt many would find surprising, a study of suicide rates from 1928-2007 found that people 25-64 were more likely to commit suicide and end their life during down economic times.
The overall suicide rate generally rose in recessions like the Great Depression (1929-1933), the end of the New Deal (1937-1938), the Oil Crisis (1973-1975), and the Double-Dip Recession (1980-1982) and fell in expansions like the WWII period (1939-1945) and the longest expansion period (1991-2001) in which the economy experienced fast growth and low unemployment.
The largest increase in the overall suicide rate occurred in the Great Depression (1929-1933)—it surged from 18.0 in 1928 to 22.1 (all-time high) in 1932 (the last full year in the Great Depression)—a record increase of 22.8% in any four-year period in history. It fell to the lowest point in 2000.
Suicide rates of two elderly groups (65-74 years and 75 years and older) and the oldest middle-age group (55-64) experienced the most significant decline from 1928 to 2007.
“Economic problems can impact how people feel about themselves and their futures as well as their relationships with family and friends. Economic downturns can also disrupt entire communities,” said Feijun Luo, Ph.D., an economist in CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention and the study’s lead author.
It’s no surprise to those of us that lived through dark economic times. And when things seem out of our control, and there appears to be less hope for the future, rightly or wrongly, suicide can seem like a way out.
The greatest tragedy is that for financial problems, while the thought may seem rational, there is no reason to commit suicide over those issues. There are many way to deal with financial misfortune other than ending a life.
But having not lived through the Great Depression I can only imagine the hardships people of that day faced as so many more were displaced and unable to find work.