Background A scientific debate is currently taking place on whether the 2008 economic crisis caused an increase in suicide rates. Our main objective was to assess the impact of unemployment rate on suicide rate in Western European countries between 2000 and 2010. We then tried to estimate the excess number of suicides attributable to the increase of unemployment during the 2008–2010 economic crisis.
Methods The yearly suicide rates were modelled using a quasi-Poisson model, controlling for sex, age, country and a linear time trend. For each country, the unemployment–suicide association was assessed, and the excess number of suicides attributable to the increase of unemployment was estimated. Sensitivity analyses were performed, notably in order to evaluate whether the unemployment–suicide association found was biased by a confounding context effect (‘crisis effect’).
Results A significant 0.3% overall increase in suicide rate for a 10% increase in unemployment rate (95% CI 0.1% to 0.5%) was highlighted. This association was significant in three countries: 0.7% (95% CI 0.0% to 1.4%) in the Netherlands, 1.0% (95% CI 0.2% to 1.8%) in the UK and 1.9% (95% CI 0.8% to 2.9%) in France, with a significant excess number of suicides attributable to unemployment variations between 2008 and 2010 (respectively 57, 456 and 564). The association was modified inconsistently when adding a ‘crisis effect’ into the model.
Conclusions Unemployment and suicide rates are globally statistically associated in the investigated countries. However, this association is weak, and its amplitude and sensitivity to the ‘crisis effect’ vary across countries. This inconsistency provides arguments against its causal interpretation.