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Painted Brain | The Connection Between Unemployment And Suicide
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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The Connection Between Unemployment and Suicide

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Unemployed Homeless Man on Street

Unemployment can be caused by numerous events and circumstances. However, no matter the cause, the outcome for most remains the same. Losing the stability and security that coincides with employment can lead to many adverse effects for people, the gravest being suicide.

The United States is currently dealing with one of its highest rates of unemployment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. unemployment rate increased from 3.8% in February to 13.0% by May. With this level of unemployment, it is easy to focus on the greater economic problem for the country as a whole. However, it is equally as important to address the social impact that this rise in unemployment is having on individuals. Moreover, we need to notice the alarming similarities between the effects of unemployment on individuals and risk factors for suicide. 

Across research, unemployment is associated with an increased risk for suicide to at least some degree. Various studies list differing statistics regarding the level at which suicide is connected to unemployment rates. Murphy and Athansou’s 1999 meta-analysis found that 14 out of 16 studies showed a significant negative association between unemployment and mental health. It is difficult to directly point to unemployment as the cause of suicide because of the individual and contextual factors that are also at play. However, when looking at the effects of unemployment and the risk factors for suicide, the connection between the two is very clear. 

[Related: Facts About Unemployment & Suicide]

Unemployment Effects on the Individual:

  • Financial difficulties (can lead to home foreclosure and/or homelessness) 
  • Decreased standard of living 
  • Onset of anxiety and/or depression 
  • Substance abuse (alcohol and/or drugs)
  • Negative impact on relationships/loss of social contacts 
  • Loss of skills (loss of human capital)
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Feelings of stigma and or shame 

Sad Woman in Covid Face-Covering

Suicide Risk Factors:

  • Socioeconomic problems (unemployment, poverty, homelessness)
  • Genetics 
  • Depression 
  • Substance misuse 
  • Loss of pleasure in life 
  • Major life changes 
  • Loss of job or family member 
  • Social isolation
  • Feelings of hopelessness and poor coping skills 

The similarities are evident. Though it may be difficult to directly point to a cause-and-effect relationship between unemployment and suicide, it is clear that the impact unemployment can have on an individual largely correlates to the risk factors associated with suicide. In addition, when including the social impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the U.S., it becomes even more transparent why suicide rates could be on the rise this upcoming year. 

Social Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic:

  • Increase in unemployment rate
  • Increase in homelessness 
  • Loss of religious communities (cancellation of worship services)
  • Social isolation 
  • Loss of social connectedness, loneliness 
  • Increase in domestic violence cases 
  • Supply shortages (fear of the unknown, loss of trust)

Once again, the effects caused by COVID-19 listed above closely mimic the risk factors related to suicide. Together, COVID-19 and unemployment can have a severe effect on upcoming suicide rates. According to the World Health Organization, each suicide in a population is accompanied by more than 20 suicide attempts. Thus, it is crucial that we acknowledge both the social and mental impact that unemployment and COVID-19 have on our current society. 

[Related: COVID-19, unemployment, and suicide]

To address what can be done about this increasing rate of unemployment, it can be helpful to also be aware of the protective factors associated with suicide ideation.

This is the sign you've been looking for neon sign Protective Factors:

  • Life skills (problem-solving, coping skills)
  • Sense of purpose or meaning in life
  • Access to appropriate medical and mental health care
  • Connectedness to others, family, community, and social institutions 

Although many of the conditions above seem more difficult to achieve now more than ever, these factors should not go unnoticed. On average, there are 132 suicides per day. If you or someone you know is experiencing the adverse effects caused by unemployment and seemingly do not have any of the protective factors mentioned, it needs to be noticed. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

24 hours, English and Spanish 

1-800-273-8255

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