Financial woes don't just keep people awake at night; they can cause stress, depression, self-harm, suicide and homicide. Recession-depression is a real and growing problem.
When the economy is hurting, people are more likely to hurt or kill themselves and others. There is a direct correlation between economic downturns and an increase in suicides, as well as in heart attacks, domestic violence, child abuse, and murder. An economic recession can lead to a spiral of losses that frequently undermines a person's mental health. A progression of events such as unemployment, financial strain, loss of retirement security, evictions, mortgage foreclosures, repossessions, and mounting debt can trigger an episodic depression or an anxiety disorder. The longer a recession continues and/or worsens the higher the incidence of mental illness.
Historically, the suicide rate has been linked to the unemployment rate rather than to losses in the stock market, investment frauds, or other financial circumstances. During the Great Depression the American suicide rate jumped from 14 in 100,000 to 17 in 100,000. This increase coincided with a peak in unemployment which was 3.2% in 1929 and rose to 24.9% in 1933.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that during the month of March, 2009, the economy lost another 669,000 jobs, increasing the nation's unemployment rate to 8.5% (the highest in a quarter century). That brings the total number of unemployed people in the U.S. to 13.2 million, compared with 7.4 million a year ago. Additionally, the number of people forced to work part time for "economic reasons" rose by 423,000 to 9 million (people who would like to work full time but whose hours were cut back or were unable to find full-time work). Unemployment is the Number One suicide risk factor during a recession. Unemployed people statistically have between two and four times the suicide rate of those employed. Additionally, anxiety about getting a pink slip is on millions of workers' minds. A March USA Today survey revealed that 59% of those surveyed said that they worry about becoming unemployed, more than double the percentage at this time last year.
The fear of and reality of homelessness is the second largest economic strain associated with suicide. Last year over two million Americans faced home foreclosure proceedings, an 81% increase from 2007. More than a million people have recently lost their homes. The USA Today poll revealed that 46% of those surveyed said that they worry about losing their home.
The ultra-wealthy represent a third risk for suicide during a recession. They have much more to lose simply because they have much more. These individuals frequently have built their lives around being successful. Financial losses, personal or corporate, are viewed as personal failures. They feel shame and humiliation believing they had a hand in their financial downfall by not being able to predict what was coming in the market.
Progressive or significant losses can lead to feelings of shame, humiliation, insecurity, or utter despair. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness correspond with loss, further fueling suicidal thoughts and attempts in vulnerable individuals. Although, recessions are accompanied by a significant increase of admissions to psychiatric hospitals, many people don't seek mental health assistance when they are under financial stress. A major component to this problem is that unemployment results in the loss of health insurance, which makes getting appropriate treatment an additional financial strain.
National suicide rate data, calculated every five years, will not be available until 2010. The CDC reported an 11 in 100,000 suicide rate in 2005, for a total of 32,637 deaths (the most recent statistics available). Current estimates suggest that there has been an increase of up to 20% of completed suicides over the past year directly related to the economic recession. Many of these deaths are by people who would have never thought about taking their own lives. National and local calls to all suicide prevention lines have uniformly increased over the past year; some of these agencies are reporting an increase of up to 87%. Employee assistance providers (which offer counseling as part of an employee's health plan) have also reported a dramatic increase in calls related to depression and financial worries. There has also been an increase of training requests from law enforcement and fire departments, as well as financial institutions, to help deal with an upsurge in suicide risk.
You are not only an officer in the field; you are also a human being who is very likely feeling the recession the same way everyone else is. Law enforcement officers have been laid off, forced into early retirement, or had a reduction in pay or benefits.
If you believe you are under undue emotional strain due to the recession, treatment is available. You should see a doctor if you experience symptoms of high levels of stress, which include: problems with memory and concentration, physical symptoms (pain in the back, stomach, or head), constantly concentrating on only the negative, an inability to stop worrying, trouble sleeping, irritability and moodiness, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, an increase in alcohol or substance usage, stress in personal relationships, or thoughts of hurting/killing yourself or someone else.
Practical Tips to Help Combat Financial Worries
While the government is working on an economic bailout, there has been far too little emphasis on an emotional bailout for countless Americans. There will undoubtedly be a long aftermath of mental illness well after the recession ends. There is no guarantee that individuals who have been laid off will be able to return to their old jobs, with the same pay and benefits. Economic downturns can also affect marriages, friendships, and educational goals. Symptoms of post traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety can last long after the Dow is up, and even become chronic.
As a first responder you have seen the uglier side of the recession, the human toll, which can lead to crime and/or tragedy. Recognize when someone is riding the edge and find out if they are suicidal or homicidal. A life saved is a life earned.