A study by Johns Hopkins University researchers published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported a nearly 16% surge in suicides between 1999 and 2005 among people ages 40-64. This accounted for much of the overall increase of 5% during that period, after suicide rates had declined between 1986 and 1999. Although rates since the economic downturn aren't yet available, it's safe to assume the upward trend has only accelerated. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, for example, reported a 27% higher call volume in January 2009 than in January 2008.
While it's unclear what's driving the increase, Dr. Ian A. Cook, director of the UCLA Unipolar Depression Research and Clinic Program, believes the stresses of modern life may be the culprit.
More than in the past, Dr. Cook says, we are living with uncontrollable and unpredictable threats, a situation only exacerbated in the throes of economic hardship. "The stock markets are much more volatile, and people who once thought they had job security find that even big companies are not as stable as they once were," he notes.
Tools people can use to take care of their mental health during the current economic distress can be found at “Beat Recession Depression.” The UCLA Unipolar Depression Research and Clinic Program also offers help (http://www.depressionla.com/), along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
How do you prevent going from stressed-out to severely depressed – or even for some, beginning a downward spiral leading to suicidal thoughts?
There are many things we can do to make ourselves more resilient. We know that regular physical exercise has been shown to calm the mind and body. Psychologically, Dr. Cook recommends that we focus on the future, rather than dwelling on what we might have done differently. Just keep expectations realistic and adapt to new realities.
Dr. Cook offers these tips:
- Recognizing the signs
- Bringing it up
- Continuing the discussion
- Seeking help
- Acting in an emergency