By Amitabh Pal on June 25, 2014

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.”

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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