Background: Studies have identified employment as a protective factor against suicide. We examined employment status and risk of suicide in Ireland during the 11-year period 1996-2006, a period of economic boom commonly known as the Celtic Tiger.
Methods: Data relating to the 5270 suicides and 789 deaths of undetermined intent registered as occurring in Ireland in 1996-2006 and relevant population data were obtained from the Irish Central Statistics Office and analysed using Poisson regression.
Results: Unemployment fell from 12% in 1996 to 4% in 2000, a level at which it remained until 2006. Male and female rates of suicide and undetermined death were stable during 1996-2006 though suicide among unemployed men increased. Relative to employment, unemployment was associated with a 2-3-fold increased risk of male suicide and undetermined death but generally a 4-6-fold increased risk in women. Unemployment was associated with greater increased risk of suicide and undetermined death when its level was low (2001-06) than in the period of decreasing unemployment (1996-2000). Unemployment was a stronger risk factor in men aged 35-54 years and with increasing age in women. Retired persons aged >55 years had a similar risk to their employed counterparts. Being a homemaker was associated with increased risk in women aged >35 years.
Conclusion: The current Irish context of rapidly increasing unemployment suggests that rates may rise again as in previous recessions. Appropriate social policy responses are required to mitigate the potential impact of unemployment on suicides.