Recession and suicide

Posted on | juli 21, 2012 | 1 Comment

Materialistic/hedonistic lifestyle and Suicide
During the Great Depression, the press published dramatic stories of people committing suicide after they had lost their savings, homes, and/or jobs. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently reports that more than 800,000 people kill themselves each year, a rate that has been rising owing to the recent recession. Is there a correlation between economic recessions and increase in suicides? The figures from developed, semi-developed and underdeveloped nations indicate that there is a link. Even in the UK, which is outside the perimeters of official austerity, unlike Ireland, Portugal and Greece, the rate of suicides rose 15% in 2011 in comparison with 2007. It is true that suicide rates in many developed nations have risen sharply in the last half century, although incomes have risen for most of that period, but falling in the past two decades. This is in part because the materialistic/hedonistic culture and lifestyle on which the individual’s psychology is molded cannot absorb the shock of having a lessening of materialistic/hedonistic lifestyle undercut by economic contractions impacting the individual’s life.Therefore, when the nice home, car, and lifestyle are diminished, all things on which the value system is based, the individual cannot cope and sees no point to go on living.

Suicides in Southern Europe
More interesting than northwest Europe, which has a long-standing pattern of higher suicide rates than most of the world, southern Europe (Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy) have seen their suicide rates skyrocket in the past two years. From 1980 to 2000 suicide rates averaged six per 100,000, or about the same as in Mexico and Israel, whereas in the Russian Federation and South Korea rates were almost three times higher. There is a long-standing debate about suicide as an individual matter vs. a social problem, something that is discussed more in Asian and other non-Western societies, but is more likely dismissed in Western nations by media, politicians and social elites that want to blame the individual and not the institutional structure for the conditions providing fertile ground to suicide attempts.

Mental Illness, Alcohol, Substance abuse and Economic hardships
While suicide is often associated with mental illness, abuse of alcohol and substances, suicide rates since the recession of 2008 have risen owing to people losing jobs, homes, income, falling into debt and watching their lives destroyed and identities shattered. Particularly in Italy and Greece, suicide rates have been rampant in 2011 and 2012, with blatant cases of individuals killing themselves because they see no way out of economic hardships. The dignity question, often associated with middle class status is linked to rise in suicides at a time that the economic recession has eroded middle class living standards.

OECD warnings on suicides
OECD – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – has been compiling statistics that indicate a direct a correlation between economic hard times and suicides, especially in countries under formal or informal austerity pressures. As EU economy will continue to struggle in 2012 and 2013, with rising unemployment, falling wages and benefits, the likely scenario is higher rate of suicide attempts across most of EU, along with higher crime rates and social unrest. At the same time, the social fabric is under attack, given that the economic recession is impacting the integrity of the family, as more people need to take anti-depressant medication to cope with external problems that they internalize.

GDP Correlation to Suicide
Studies conducted over long periods suggest that the higher income the lower the suicide rate. Moreover, higher income nations suffer a lower suicide rate during expansionary economic cycles than they do during recessionary cycles. As much in the US as in Japan, suicides rates rise during recessionary cycles, though it is not true that such rates rise across all of Asia during economic hard times, thus indicating that value systems – traditional-religious rooted society does impact the individual’s outlook on suicide.

Suicide: Internalizing an external problem
It is true that in much of the Western World the external problems of economic recessions that lead to job loss, home loss, savings depletion, high debt, divorce, etc. is often internalized, largely because the media, politicians, priests and sages insist that any calamities that befall on the individual are her/his fault and not a structural or institutional problem. Therefore, the sense of guilt, self-hatred, and pain is so intense that to stop the hurt, the individual must kill the self, instead of pointing to the predatory institutional system as the root of the problem.

Capitalist value system and Suicide
In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the option of suicide is seen as one that the system of the market economy brings to Willy Loman, an option from which he cannot escape because his life, his identity, his family, his success is defined. Has finance capitalism created a new class of Willy Lomans on the verge of depression and contemplating suicide, or is this an exaggeration, considering that no matter the political economy, human beings would always contemplate choosing to end their lives when pressured by unpleasant circumstances? Does the marketing/publicity machine of the free market economy condition peoples’ minds to the degree that they actually believe in the illusion of ‘making it rich some day’, and once that does not come true some become depressed and a few suicidal? To what degree has the credit economy contributed to false hopes about achieving the dream of riches, when in reality such dreams are confined to a tiny percentage of the world’s population? Finally, what is the meaning of life for an individual who grew up in materialistic/hedonistic society in which material success cannot be achieved?

AUTHOR: Jon Kofas
E-MAIL: jonkofas [at]


One Response to “Recession and suicide”

  1. Julian
    december 14th, 2012 @ 13:33

    “This is in part because the materialistic/hedonistic culture and lifestyle on which the individual’s psychology is molded cannot absorb the shock of having a lessening of materialistic/hedonistic lifestyle undercut by economic contractions impacting the individual’s life.Therefore, when the nice home, car, and lifestyle are diminished…” Are you kiddin me?? We are talking people having no freakin food or heat, and in the UK this is serious because it has been cold and miserable throughout the last year. You phrase it to sound like spoilt people jest cant take losing their Porsche and posh lifestyle. IT AINT LIKE THAT!!

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