Global financial crises and the severe economic hardships they impose on millions of people worldwide can sometimes lead to violent and fatal outcomes, according to a new study from the University of Maine. The research, which links periods of economic turmoil to increased rates of suicide and murder-suicide, illuminates the often overlooked and understudied loss of human life as a direct consequence of market instability.
The results of the study, which included an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Bureau of Labor Statistics, find that the rates of suicide and murder-suicide can be predicted by shocks to the national economy, like the recent Great Recession.
However, according to the study’s lead author Pankaj Agrrawal, these tragic outcomes, termed “direct human fallout,” lag behind the economic events that trigger them by two years — an important finding that identifies a crucial window for proactive government or public health policies or interventions to help prevent irreparable loss of life and human capital.
The paper, “Suicides as a response to adverse market sentiment (1980–2016),” co-authored with Doug Waggle, professor of accounting and finance at the University of West Florida, and Daniel Sandweiss, UMaine professor of anthropology and climate change, was published in the journal PLOS ONE. Agrrawal, an associate professor of finance in the Maine Business School, spent nine years evaluating the records of more than 2.5 million non-natural deaths reported by the CDC.
As economic systems struggle, so do the people who rely on them. The collapse of the housing market, which began at the end of 2006, set off what would become the most severe global financial crisis since the Great Depression. Between 2007 and 2010, it is estimated that U.S. families lost nearly $6 trillion of personal wealth — a sum equivalent to 39 percent of the U.S. national gross domestic product (GDP).
One of the study’s most important findings is the two-year lag between economic stress and the eventual rise in suicide rates. According to the authors, the delay accounts for the time it takes economic hardships, such as job loss and home foreclosure, to affect individuals’ mental health to such an extent that they take their own or others’ lives. This lag, however, opens a “window of opportunity” for support systems to be put into place to help prevent these unfortunate acts.