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Do macroeconomic contractions induce or ‘harvest’ suicides? A test of competing hypotheses


Background Researchers often invoke a mortality displacement or ‘harvesting’ mechanism to explain mortality patterns, such that those with underlying health vulnerabilities die sooner than expected in response to environmental phenomena, such as heat waves, cold spells and air pollution. It is unclear if this displacement mechanism might also explain observed increases in suicide following economic contraction, or if suicides are induced in persons otherwise unlikely to engage in self-destructive behaviour. Here, we test two competing hypotheses explaining an observed increase in suicides following unemployment—induction or displacement.

Methods We apply time series methods to monthly suicide and unemployment data from Sweden for the years 2000–2011. Tests are conducted separately for working age (20–64 years old) men and women as well as older (aged 65 years and older) men and women.

Results Displacement appeared among older men and women; an unexpected rise in unemployment predicted an increase in suicides 6 months later, followed by a significant decrease 8 months later. Induction appeared among working age men, but not among working age women; an unexpected rise in unemployment predicted an increase in suicides 4–6 months later.

Conclusions Displacement and induction both appear to have operated following unexpected labour market contractions in Sweden, though with different population segments.


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