Poverty May Have a Greater Effect on Suicide Rates Than Do Unemployment or Foreclosures
November 16, 2016 | MedicalXpress.com
County-level suicide rates in the United States had a strong positive relationship with county poverty rates, while no relationships were found between county measures of unemployment or foreclosures when poverty rates were controlled, according to a new study from the Alcohol Research Group (ARG), a program of the Public Health Institute, in collaboration with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Oregon Health and Science University, Prevention Research Center and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, analyzed data over a six-year period from 2005 to 2011 that includes the major U.S. economic downturn from 2007 to 2009. The study also found that for men 45 to 64 years old, the proportion of alcohol-related suicides and poverty rates were positively associated. This working-age group was a key demographic in rising suicide rates during the recession.
This is the first study to try to unravel how different features of such a downturn affect suicide rates and alcohol-related suicides in particular. It is also the first study to suggest that unemployment's role may not be as significant as poverty. "Our finding suggests that the consequences of unemployment were more important than being unemployed during this period," said ARG senior scientist and lead author William C. Kerr. "These results are consistent with what we see in countries that have strong unemployment support systems—where being out of a job doesn't increase your risk for suicide." Poverty was also found to mediate unemployment's effect on suicide rates, which suggests that policies should focus directly on reducing poverty as well as on supporting people who are unemployed.