Unemployment Kills: 45,000 Suicides Each Year Linked to Joblessness, Study Says

February 14, 2015 Updated: February 14, 2015

A study has found that 45,000 people, or 20 percent, of all suicides around the world each year are associated with being unemployed.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, looked at the suicide numbers in 63 countries over four world regions between 2001 and 2011,

“Unemployment directly affects individuals’ health and, unsurprisingly, studies have proposed an association between unemployment and suicide,” the researchers wrote in an abstract of the paper. “To check stability of findings, we conducted an overall random coefficient model including all study countries and four additional models, each covering a different world region,” the authors added.

The researchers, who were with the University of Zurich in South Africa, argued that their findings suggest that suicide prevention strategies need to target people who have lost their jobs–even in countries that aren’t affected by economic recession. 

It’s worth noting that for this study, correlation doesn’t equal causation. The researchers merely observed an association between unemployment and suicide.

“Suicides associated with unemployment totalled a nine-fold higher number of deaths than excess suicides attributed to the most recent economic crisis. Prevention strategies focused on the unemployed and on employment and its conditions are necessary not only in difficult times but also in times of stable economy,” the abstract said.

Men and women of all ages were equally vulnerable to suicide associated with being unemployed, it said.

According to the U.K.’s National Health Service, “Analysis at world regional level is unable to take account of clinical and psychosocial factors associated with suicide and further research into individuals at risk in times of high unemployment would be useful. In addition, there is missing information from large countries such as China, India and most of Africa, which may affect the reliability of their estimates.”

But lead author Dr. Carlos Nordt said it isn’t only about losing one’s job, but the uncertainty in the ensuing months.

“It is possible that an unexpected increase in the unemployment rate may trigger greater fears and insecurity than in countries with higher pre-crisis unemployment levels,” Nordt told the Guardian.

He added: “Our findings reveal that the suicide rate increases six months before a rise in unemployment. What is more, our data suggests that not all job losses necessarily have an equal impact, as the effect on suicide risk appears to be stronger in countries where being out of work is uncommon.”

Individual governments also could help reduce the risks of suicide by putting more emphasis in investing “in active labour market policies that enhance the efficiency of labour markets [which] could help generate additional jobs and reduce the unemployment rate.”

Overall, there are about 233,000 suicides each year on average.