The association between economic uncertainty and suicide in the short-run

Soc Sci Med. 2019 Jan:220:403-410. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.11.035. Epub 2018 Nov 24.


Rationale: Previous research has shown that uncertainty can affect mental health, and that unemployment and economic recessions are associated with increased suicide rates.

Objective: The objective of this article was to examine whether daily fluctuations in economic uncertainty can result in short-term spikes in the number of suicides. While existing evidence has focused on medium- and long-term effects of economic conditions on suicide, this study examined immediate daily deviations from the background general trend.

Methods: We used daily suicide data from England and Wales that were matched to a daily economic policy uncertainty index over the period 2001-2015. We followed an econometric approach to examine the impact of uncertainty on suicides, controlling for unemployment rates.

Results: We found that a spike in daily economic uncertainty leads to an immediate, yet short-lived, impact on suicides. A one-day lag also has a positive effect, but there is no effect on subsequent days. The impact appears to be stronger for males than for females. Results are robust to different empirical approaches and model specifications.

Conclusions: Overall, our study suggests that economic uncertainty may lead to an increase in the risk of suicide. This immediate effect indicates that uncertainty may act as a trigger, and is unlikely to be the sole cause of suicide, which reflects existing evidence on the impulsive nature of some suicides. This highlights the need to reduce 'access to means', and the importance of the timing of suicide prevention measures.

Keywords: Daily variation; Economic uncertainty; Suicide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Economic Recession / trends
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Suicide*
  • Time Factors
  • Uncertainty*
  • Unemployment / trends
  • Wales