2015 Press Releases

Economic recessions may impact on suicide rates

17 Jun 2015
Dr Paul Corcoran, UCC

Researchers at UCC and McGill University in the US have found strong associations between economic downturns and the rates of suicide. Their findings are published online today (Wednesday, 17th June) in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The first study, from Dr Paul Corcoran and colleagues at University College Cork (UCC) and the National Suicide Research Foundation looked at the impact of economic recession and austerity in Ireland on rates of suicide and self-harm between 2008 and 2012. A similar study from Dr Sam Harper and colleagues at McGill University assessed data from 297,000 suicides in the United States.

The effect of recession on suicide in Ireland appeared to be greater than in the United States. The UCC study found that the male suicide rate was 57% higher by the end of 2012 than if the pre-recession trend had continued. The same study also found a significant increase in self-harm rates, with an increase of 31% in men and 22% in women. The study cited a number of factors related to austerity, including reductions in public expenditure, cuts to welfare, substantial healthcare cuts, falling house prices and personal debt.

Dr Corcoran said that the study “provides a stark reminder of the tragic human costs of policy failure in economic management by governments and other institutions at national and international level”. He also went on to say that their findings “highlight the need for reliable and well-standardised data on suicide, self-harm and determinants of suicidal behaviour to guide policy on how best to mitigate the effects of economic crisis on mental health.”

Dr Paul Corcoran is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UCC. Before joining UCC, Paul was Deputy Director of the National Suicide Research Foundation. The Irish study was funded by the Health Service Executive's National Office for Suicide Prevention.

The study from the United States looked at the effect of economic fluctuations on suicide rates within each state from 1980 to 2010. The authors found that the average economic downturn during a recession increased the suicide rate by 0.4%, but this effect differed according to gender, age, and education. The authors also noted that estimating the impact of economic downturns on suicide is complicated by strong seasonal and long term trends in suicide rates that are unrelated to economic conditions.

Despite differing levels of increased suicide mortality in the two studies, both agree that it is primarily men whose rate of suicide increases in an economic downturn. Dr Harper concluded that “economic fluctuations may increase suicide among socioeconomically disadvantaged young men.” However, unlike some other studies, the UCC findings have shown that both sexes were affected in terms of medically-serious non-suicidal behaviour. There were 5029 more male and 3833 more female self-harm presentations to hospital between 2008 and 2012.


The studies:

“Impact of the economic recession and subsequent austerity on suicide and self-harm in Ireland: An interrupted time series analysis”
Paul Corcoran, Eve Griffin, Ella Arensman, Anthony P. Fitzgerald, Ivan J. Perry.


“Economic downturns and suicide mortality in the United States, 1980-2010: observational study”
Sam Harper, Thomas J. Charters, Erin C. Strumpf, Sandro Galea, Arijit Nandi.

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