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updated: 11/19/2012 6:33 AM

U.S. sees increase in suicides during recession

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The suicide rate in the U.S. increased during the recession, a sign that rising joblessness took a toll on Americans' mental health, researchers said.

About 1,580 additional suicides occurred annually in the U.S. from 2008 to 2010 than would have been expected based on statistical trends before the recession, according to a letter published in the Lancet journal by researchers from the U.K., Hong Kong and the U.S. They looked at suicide mortality statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 1999 through 2010, according to the letter.

The findings add to evidence from other countries that the recession and debt crisis have harmed mental health. Previous studies found that Greece and Spain, two of the countries hit hardest by the economic duress, showed increases in illnesses including depression.

"Suicide is a rare outcome of mental illness but this means that these data are likely the most visible indicator of major depression and anxiety disorders among people living through the financial crisis, as revealed by recent research in Spain and Greece," the lead author, Aaron Reeves, a sociology researcher at the University of Cambridge in England, said in an emailed statement.

From 1999 to 2007, the U.S. suicide rate rose each year by about 0.12 suicides per 100,000 people, the authors wrote. From 2008 to 2010, the rate of increase more than quadrupled, to an additional 0.51 suicides per 100,000 people, they said.

The U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, and averaged 8.2 percent from 2008 to 2010, according to data. From 1999 through 2007, joblessness averaged 4.9 percent.

Programs to help the unemployed find jobs, social support and mental-health programs "seem to mitigate significantly" the effects of recessions, the researchers wrote.

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