BBC News has a revealing report on new research findings showing the link between economic crisis and mental health, specifically the rise in suicide rates across Europe during 2007-09.

Sad faceThe item reports that according to the Lancet ‘The analysis by US and UK researchers found a rise in suicides was recorded among working age people from 2007 to 2009 in nine of the 10 nations studied. The increases varied between 5% and 17% for under 65s after a period of falling suicide rates’

Researchers said investment in welfare systems was the key to keeping rates down. In particular, they argued supporting people back into work or having programmes to stop them losing their jobs in the first place was more important than giving them benefits.’

Anyone who has read the excellent book ‘The Spirit Level’, by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, will know about the correlations between economics and a whole range of health and social problems. It outlines, in exhaustive detail, the relationships between economic inequality and issues such as crime rates, mental health and life expectancy, making comparisons between different countries.

This fresh research indicates how mental health problems can become worse with the onset of an economic crisis. Countries especially badly hit by the crisis – such as Greece – appear to have the sharpest increases in suicide rates.

There seems to be a particular emphasis on jobs – not just people losing work, but also the fear of losing work. Unemployment and insecurity are thus both factors in worsening mental health problems, reflected in the suicide levels. BBC News says:

‘During the period, there was a rise in unemployment by a third. Only Austria saw suicide rates fall. This was put down to the country being less exposed to the financial crisis than the others.

Of the risers, Finland fared best while Greece had the worst record. The UK saw a rise of 10% to 6.75 suicides per 100,000 people.’

At a time of cuts to UK mental health services, Andy Bell of the Centre for Mental Health is correct to emphasise “how important it is that we treat the mental health of people who are not just out of work but also in work but fear losing their jobs as a major public health issue”. The cuts make this much harder and mean people who need support simply aren’t getting it.

But what’s even more important is that unemployment is brought down. The waves of job losses in the last few years are bad for our mental health. The human cost is appalling. No amount of rhetoric from David Cameron about ‘national wellbeing’ can change that.

BBC News report:

Luna17 Activist

Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).

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