A painful economic recession, rising unemployment and biting austerity measures may have already driven more than 1,000 people in Britain to commit suicide, according to a study published yesterday.
A so-called time-trend analysis which compared the actual number of suicides with those expected if pre-recession trends had continued, reflects findings elsewhere in Europe where suicides are also on the rise.
"This a grim reminder after the euphoria of the Olympics of the challenges we face and those that lie ahead," said Dr David Stuckler, a sociologist at Cambridge University who co-led the study, published in BMJ ( British Medical Journal).
The analysis found that between 2008 and 2010 there were 846 more suicides among men in England than would have been expected if previous trends continued, and 155 more among women.
Between 2000 and 2010 each annual 10 per cent increase in the number of unemployed people was associated with a 1.4 per cent increase in the number of male suicides, the study found.
The analysis used data from the National Clinical and Health Outcomes Database and the Office for National Statistics.
Stuckler, who worked with researchers from Liverpool University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said while this kind of statistical study could not establish a causal link, the power of the associations was strong. Its conclusions were strengthened by other indicators of rising mental health problems, stress and anxiety, he said.
The study showed a small reduction in the number of suicides in 2010, which coincided with a slight recovery in male employment.
Data this month from the government's Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that the number of prescriptions dispensed in England for antidepressants rose 9.1 per cent in 2010.
A study published last July, also by Stuckler, found that across Europe, suicide rates rose sharply from 2007 to 2009 as the financial crisis drove unemployment up and squeezed incomes.
The countries worst hit by severe economic downturns, such as Greece and Ireland, saw the most dramatic increases in suicides.
In Britain, there is little doubt times have been getting harder. The economy has shrunk for the last nine months and now produces 4.5 per cent less than before the economic crisis.
Government debt is well above £1 trillion (HK$12.17 trillion) and is predicted to rise above 90 per cent of GDP - even with the austerity policies that are being pushed through by the administration.
Many Britons have had the worst squeeze in living standards for 40 years and the crisis has hit young people hard, with youth unemployment soaring above 20 per cent.
Stuckler's BMJ study found that the number of unemployed men rose on average across Britain by 25.6 per cent each year from 2008 to 2010, a rise associated with a yearly increase in male suicides of 3.6 per cent.
"Much of men's identity and sense of purpose is tied up with having a job. It brings income, status, importance," Stuckler said. "And there's also a pattern in the UK where men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, while women are much more likely to report being depressed and seek help."
The World Health Organisation estimates that every year, almost a million people die globally from suicide - a rate of 16 per 100,000, or one every 40 seconds. For every suicide, there are up to 20 attempted ones.