Long-term unemployment and suicide: a systematic review and meta-analysis

PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e51333. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051333. Epub 2013 Jan 16.

Abstract

Purpose: There have been a number of reviews on the association+ between unemployment and suicide, but none have investigated how this relationship is influenced by duration of unemployment.

Method: A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted of those studies that assessed duration of unemployment as a risk factor for suicide. Studies considered as eligible for inclusion were population-based cohort or case-control designs; population-based ecological designs, or hospital based clinical cohort or case-control designs published in the year 1980 or later.

Results: The review identified 16 eligible studies, out of a possible 10,358 articles resulting from a search of four databases: PubMed, Web of Knowledge, Scopus and Proquest. While all 16 studies measured unemployment duration in different ways, a common finding was that longer duration of unemployment was related to greater risk of suicide and suicide attempt. A random effects meta-analysis on a subsample of six cohort studies indicated that the pooled relative risk of suicide in relation to average follow-up time after unemployment was 1.70 (95% CI 1.22 to 2.18). However, results also suggested a possible habituation effect to unemployment over time, with the greatest risk of suicide occurring within five years of unemployment compared to the employed population (RR = 2.50, 95% CI 1.83 to 3.17). Relative risk appeared to decline in studies of those unemployed between 12 and 16 years compared to those currently employed (RR = 1.21, 95% CI 1.10 to 1.33).

Conclusion: Findings suggest that long-term unemployment is associated with greater incidence of suicide. Results of the meta-analysis suggest that risk is greatest in the first five years, and persists at a lower but elevated level up to 16 years after unemployment. These findings are limited by the paucity of data on this topic.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors
  • Unemployment / statistics & numerical data*

Grant support

This work was supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Capacity Building Grant in Population Health (grant number 546248) and McCaughey Centre funding from Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.