Background Multiple studies have shown that macroeconomic factors are associated with changes in suicide rates. We investigated how changes in economic conditions associated with the recent economic crisis in South Korea influenced suicide rates among working-age adults.
Methods Time-series analyses were performed to examine the temporal associations of national unemployment rates and sex-employment-specific suicide rates in South Korea from 2003 to 2011, with particular attention to the increases of suicides that occurred during the recessionary period that began in 2008. We also compared the relative risk of suicide among different occupations.
Results National unemployment rates were positively associated with suicide rates among employed and unemployed men and women, with a 2-month to 3 month lagged period. Significant increases of suicide rates among working-age adults during the recession were detected in most of the subgroups stratified by age, sex and employment status. Forty-three per cent of the increase of suicides was derived from the employed population. Compared with workers in elementary occupations, the relative risk of suicide for mangers increased by threefold during the recessionary period. Among those who were employed, half of the increases in suicides occurred among clerks and workers involved in sales and services.
Conclusions Changes in macroeconomic conditions are tied to population-level suicide risks for employed and unemployed persons. However, these associations vary depending on sex, employment status and occupational roles. In advance of future economic crises, it is important to develop prevention initiatives intended to reach the diverse populations potentially exposed to the adverse effects of sudden economic disruptions.
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