Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
A new study reveals how harmful the economic crisis has been for the public.
“There has been a substantial rise in ‘economic suicides’ in the Great Recessions afflicting Europe and North America,” the paper, published earlier this month in the British Journal of Psychiatry, states. “We estimate that the Great Recession is associated with at least 10,000 additional economic suicides between 2008 and 2010.”
This is a significant rise in a distressing social phenomenon.
"The size of the rise in suicides is particularly striking," lead researcher Aaron Reeves of Oxford University tells The Progressive. "These 10,000 excess suicides are over and above the trend, or over and above what we would have expected if previous trends had continued."
The researchers maintain that this upsurge was “avoidable.” They note that “job loss, debt, and foreclosure increase risks of suicidal thinking. A range of interventions, from upstream return-to-work programs through to antidepressant prescriptions, may help mitigate suicide risk during economic downturn.”
The authors give Sweden and Austria as examples where the suicide rate did not rise due to effective policy interventions.
"Decades of previous research has documented the association between rising unemployment and rising suicides," Reeves says. "To observe that this does not occur everywhere and does not have the same magnitude is an important finding."
And suicides are just the most obvious manifestation of the detrimental social impact of the recession.
“There is a looming mental health crisis in Europe and North America,” Oxford University Professor David Stuckler, co-author of the paper, stated in a press release. “In these hard economic times, this research suggests it is critical to look for ways of protecting those who are likely to be hardest hit.”
Reeves has a course of recommendation for governments to mitigate the suffering.
"One route is to invest in active labor market policies, these are schemes that help people return to work or that keep them in work temporarily," he says. "Countries that have invested more in these schemes have either 1) seen no rise in suicides during this and previous recessions or 2) seen smaller rises in suicide than in other countries."
The British Journal of Psychiatry article builds on research that the same team has done earlier. In a paper published in Lancet in November 2012, it estimated that the United States had experienced almost 5,000 excess suicides during the first few years of the recession.
And a book co-authored by one of the researchers last year, The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, expanded on the British Journal of Psychiatry article.
David Stuckler and Dr. Sanjay Basu say the world has provided a global lab in recent times for the effects of austerity economics, since the “patients” can be roughly broken down into two different clusters. The first group, they write, is comprised of countries that have suffered under austerity measures. In the second cohort, they suggest, are nations that countered the downturn with stimulus spending and preserving the social safety net. In case after case, Stuckler and Basu show, countries that have prioritized their people, such as Iceland and Malaysia, have seen much better health outcomes than those that imposed harsh austerity on their populations, such as Spain and Thailand.
“These experiments provided critical insights about the central findings of this book: Economic choices are not only matters of growth rates and deficits,” they wrote, “but matters of life and death.”