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Suicide rates among working-age adults in South Korea before and after the 2008 economic crisis
  1. Chee Hon Chan1,2,
  2. Eric D Caine3,4,
  3. Sungeun You5,
  4. King Wa Fu6,
  5. Shu Sen Chang1,2,
  6. Paul Siu Fai Yip1,2
  1. 1Department of Social Work and Social Administration, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  2. 2Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  3. 3Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention and Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York, USA
  4. 4VA Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention, Canandaigua, New York, USA
  5. 5Department of Psychology, Chungbuk National University, Cheongju, Republic of Korea
  6. 6Journalism and Media Studies Centre, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  1. Correspondence to Professor Paul Yip, Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, HKJC Multidisciplinary Research Building, 2nd Floor, No. 5 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam


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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