Unemployment and Suicide

May 11, 2012

News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

Both being without work and adverse working conditions increase suicide risk, according to the authors of an article on research conducted in Germany. The authors suggest that governments should take steps to head-off this increased suicide risk when economic trends and policies indicate that a rise in unemployment might be on the way. The authors also suggest that reducing stress and improving attitudes, self-efficacy, and work engagement may help prevent suicides among people who have jobs.

The research revealed that being without work was associated with a more than twofold increase in suicide risk. People who were unemployed were more than 16 times as likely to die by suicide as people with jobs. The risk of unemployment was especially pronounced for those who had been jobless for more than six months. Since most of the deaths did not occur within three months of being fired or given notice, the authors concluded that “recent job loss could not be the cause for this high suicide risk.”  Retirement was associated with a threefold increase in suicide risk and being a homemaker was associated with a sixfold increase in risk. Being unable to work because of a disability was also found to increase risk.  

Other factors found to be associated with an increase in suicide risk included low levels of educational or professional training and having had three or more jobs in the last five years. Monotonous jobs and jobs with high degrees of responsibility were also associated with an increased risk of suicide, although the research could not demonstrate that either monotony or responsibility contributed to suicide risk.

Adjusting the research results for the presence of personality disorders or axis I disorders (e.g. depression, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorders) – which are associated with suicide risk – and being in a relationship did not change the results.

This research team conducted psychological autopsies of 163 people who died by suicide in the Frankfurt (Main) region of Germany in 1999-2000. These autopsies included interviews with relatives of the decedents. Interviews of 396 matched controls and persons identified by them as close friends or relatives were also conducted.

Schneider, B., Grebner, K., Schnabel, A., Hampel, H., Georgi, K., & Seidler, A. (2011). Impact of employment status and work-related factors on risk of completed suicide. A case-control psychological autopsy study. Psychiatry Research, 190(2-3), 265-70.