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Employment status and suicide: the complex relationships between changing unemployment rates and death rates
  1. Paul S F Yip1,
  2. Eric D Caine2
  1. 1The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
  2. 2The University of Rochester, Rochester, New York City, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Paul SF Yip, The Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention and Department of Social Work and Social Administration, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, China; sfpyip{at}


Background Existing studies have described a strong correlation between unemployment rates and suicide rates, but the exact mechanisms through which they may interact with one another remain unknown.

Method This study examined the complex relationships between suicide rates and both regional unemployment rates and individual employment status during times of economic recession (2000–3) and recovery (2003–6) in Hong Kong.

Results Despite the strong correlation (0.86) between the unemployment rates and suicide rates for 2000–6, the rates of suicides within the employed and unemployed groups moved in the opposite direction from the overall population trend. That is, the suicide rate among the unemployed decreased during economic recession and increased during recovery.

Conclusion It is important to be able to distinguish precisely between population-level concepts, such as rates, and individual-level characteristics, such as employment status, when considering the development of evidence-based suicide prevention strategies.

  • Decomposition analysis
  • employment
  • epidemiology FQ
  • health
  • Hong Kong
  • suicide rate
  • suicide SI
  • unemployment

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  • Funding This work was supported in part by the Research Grant Council of the Hong Kong Government (for PSFY) NIH grant D43TW005814 from the Fogarty International Center and NIH grant P20MH071897 from NIMH/NIDA (for EDC).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.