The Role of Unemployment, Financial Hardship, and Economic Recession on Suicidal Behaviors and Interventions to Mitigate Their Impact: A Review
Sharna Mathieu, Alice Treloar, Jacinta Hawgood, Victoria Ross and Kairi Kõlves
Published 6 July 2022
Economic factors such as recession, unemployment or financial hardship are known social determinants of health and recognised as risk factors for suicide. This study reviews the recent published literature to examine the role of economic factors on suicidal behaviours and what available evidence there is for interventions addressing economic factors in reducing suicidal behaviours.
Research and findings
For this narrative review, the researchers identified peer-reviewed studies published from 2010 onwards, with a primary outcome measure of suicidal behaviours and/or ideation. Studies examined suicidal behaviours and economic factors measured at an individual (e.g. self-reported suicidal ideation or financial hardship) or aggregated/population (e.g. suicide rates or unemployment rates) level.
The review found that economic recession and unemployment are associated with an increased risk of suicidal behaviour at the population and individual level. They also found that personal financial problems such as debt and financial strain are associated with increased risk of suicidal behaviour and ideation at the individual level.
Unemployment benefits, employment protection legislation, higher minimum wage and active labour market programs may reduce suicide at the population level, particularly for men. However, it is not clear what impact they have at the individual level or on suicidal ideation, self-harm or suicide attempts.
There was a lack of evidence as to the effectiveness of financially-focused suicide prevention interventions at either level. There was some evidence that these type of interventions (e.g. ‘job club’ groups that help members find meaningful employment through networking, training and coaching opportunities.) may improve depressive symptoms over time which could have flow-on implications for suicidal behaviours.
Findings from this review indicate that policy level interventions aimed at alleviating financial stress during periods of increased unemployment may be beneficial at reducing suicide at the population level. The authors recommend co-design of new financial interventions and gatekeeper training for those in the financial and welfare sector, as well as enhanced early education aimed at increasing financial literacy in young people before onset or exacerbation of financial hardship. New interventions should be evaluated to determine their impact on suicidal behaviours.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated increase in unemployment and financial strain, and economic downturn have the potential to lead to an increase in suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates do appear to have increased in the early stages of the pandemic, but should be monitored as the financial consequences continue to unfold.