Uptick In Suicides Blamed On The Economy

unemployment suicide

The news that famed 68-year-old movie director Tony Scott ended his own life Sunday brings the issue of suicide to the forefront. There are the inevitable questions: Why would someone with so much success feel like life was no longer worth living? While his suicide note hasn't been released, it's likely his livelihood wasn't the issue (ABC News reported that the director had inoperable brain cancer.)

Yet a slew of recent reports say there's been an uptick of adult suicides throughout the U.S. and Europe -- with the lagging economy being blamed. This of course isn't a new phenomenon. As a recent study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development notes, the image of the financially ruined committing suicide by jumping out of buildings is one closely tied to the Great Depression.

A Rash Of 'Economic Suicides'
According to a new study published this week by the British Medical Journal, Great Britain saw about 1,000 more suicides a year from 2008 to 2010 than historic trends would have suggested. The researchers from the BMJ also said that the regions that saw the greatest rise in suicides were those that had the largest increases in unemployment. While the authors concede that a link between unemployment and the rise in suicides is still not conclusive, they also note that a slight decrease in suicides in 2010 coincided with a minor improvement in male employment that year.

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Economic Suicides: 'Europe's Crisis Point'
The idea that unemployment is causing a spike in suicides isn't even in doubt in European countries such as Greece, Italy and Portugal, where the economies have taken a nosedive. Greece has seen suicides jump 40 percent in the first half of 2011 compared with the same time frame in 2010. The country's experience with suicide was profiled this week in a feature by The Washington Post, which put a human face on the grim statistics. The report focuses on a struggling Greek musician who ended his life by leaping from his apartment building. He was joined on the jump by his 90-year-old grandmother, whose Alzheimer's disease he couldn't afford to treat. He'd lost multiple gigs in the wake of the recession and friends said he blamed the "powerful of the Earth" for his situation.

What About U.S. Workers?
Sixty-three percent of American workers between the ages 55 to 64 say that they are feeling stressed at work. The No. 1 source? Too low of a paycheck, with 13 percent citing inadequate pay as the main issue. Other workplace issues reported as causing the most stress: unreasonable workloads; difficult commutes; annoying co-workers; lack of opportunity for advancement; fear of being fired; and poor work-life balance. And as for the suicide rate among Americans, that number is creeping up too. During the first year of the recession ending in 2009, the suicide rate rose 2.4 percent in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC also reported that in 2008, 13.4 percent of those in the U.S. who committed suicide had experienced problems financially or on the job.

Job Losses At 'The Tonight Show'
And in the United States, it looks as if no one is immune from layoffs. "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" may still be the highest-rated late night program on television, but financially it's only breaking even, reports the Los Angeles Times. Consequently some 20 workers have been laid off, and the host reportedly agreed to take a $5 million pay cut from his current rate of $25 million to $30 million a year, so as to preserve jobs.

Defend Your Right To A Life Outside Of Work
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Uptick In Suicides Blamed On The Economy

Ever notice how quickly colleagues who need to pick up children from daycare (and pay for every minute they are late) usually manage to get out the door? Think of your own time outside of work the same way - as a necessary, not optional, commitment that needs to be honored.

Likewise, respect your work hours by making it apparent when you need to focus. Close your office door or hang a "do not disturb" sign. Set up specific times to check in with co-workers and superiors. As people come to know the flow of your day, you can accomplish more in less time.

Saying "I'll have that report on your desk by 9 a.m." gives you greater control than "I'll stay late and get the report finished."

"The difference may seem semantic – you might end up staying late to hit the 9 a.m. deadline anyway – but in those semantics lies flexibility," says Ed Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics in Albuquerque, N.M., and author of Make Work Great and Four Secrets to Liking Your Work. "You could choose to come in early or work from home instead. Or perhaps you already know you can do the report faster than others have in the past. By encouraging those around you to interact in terms of your results, you increase your own flexibility to manage your time as you see fit."

Texts, E-mails, and voice messages can be both best friends and worst enemies when it comes to life outside of work. They can free a worker to be out of the office yet still connected, but they also can be intrusive interruptions to private time and a source of stress.

Boundaries again come into play, and they are different for each individual. Find what works for you, whether that be shutting down completely after hours, setting aside a certain time for electronics, or scanning only for select correspondence.

Also, watch what your off-site technological habits may be unintentionally saying. Responding too quickly or at odd hours may give the impression that you are constantly available.

Defending your right to a life outside of work doesn't apply only to hours spent at home. You owe yourself a workday respite as well.

"When we have too much to do, it is easy to skip lunch or try to do double duty by also throwing in a lunchtime meeting," says stress and wellness expert Beverly Beuermann-King of WorkSmartLiveSmart.com. "Getting away from our desk and taking a true lunch break is essential to ensure that our digestion has the time and energy to do its job efficiently and effectively. If not given time, we end up with poor eating habits and digestion upset, such as heartburn and indigestion. Taking a break at lunch also gives us a mental break so that we can come back to our projects with renewed energy and creativity."

Likewise, don't be tempted to think that the office can't survive if you take a vacation. Prepare colleagues and clients beforehand to ensure things run smoothly in your absence. Then, use that time off wisely.

Beuermann-King warns not to misuse days off by filling them with projects or too many activities. "It is important to plan the right vacation to meet your needs. It may be the time to reconnect to family or friends. It may be the time to kick back and relax. There is nothing worse, though, than returning from your vacation feeling exhausted and worn out."

Finally, when you find yourself getting too caught up in work, try looking at the situation in terms of what you are abandoning. The language may shock you into re-prioritizing.

"Time you spend on one thing can't be spent on something else," Muzio notes. "For example, rather than saying to yourself, 'I'm just going to respond to a few emails,' say, 'I'm going to skip spending time with my daughter tonight in favor of working on my email.' Sometimes it may be worth it, other times it won't. Either way, the clarity will encourage you to make more informed decisions."


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