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Economic recessions are known to be associated with increases in suicides. There is little information, however, about whether recessions affect non-fatal self-harm. A recent study investigates the impact of the last recession on rates of self-harm in England and problems faced by patients who self-harm.

In a study based on analysis of data from the Multicentre study of Self-harm in England for 2001-2010 researchers from Oxford, Manchester and Derby (the three centres involved in the multicentre study) have shown that rates of self-harm increased in both genders in Derby and in males in Manchester in 2008-2010, but not in either gender in Oxford.

These results were largely in keeping with changes in local general population unemployment. More patients who self-harm were unemployed in 2008-10 compared to before the recession.  The proportion of patients in receipt of sickness or disability allowances decreased. More patients of both genders had employment and financial problems in 2008-2010 and more females also had housing problems. These changes in the problems patients were experiencing at the time of self-harm were also largely found in employed individuals who self-harmed.

These findings have implications for policy makers, clinicians and researchers.  Policy makers should recognise that maintenance of social welfare and work programmes at times of recession are likely to be important in reducing the impact of the consequences of recessions. Clinicians, especially those working in primary care and in self-harm services, should try to identify individuals and families at risk due to the local effects of economic downturn and ask about actual or threatened change of employment status and of disability or sickness allowances.

Provision of advice on welfare benefits may be helpful. Researchers investigating the impacts of economic downturns on suicidal behaviour need to look beyond just associations between unemployment and rates of the behaviour, including investigating the problems people face and the impact of changes in welfare and other benefits. 

Read the full report: Impact of the recent recession on self-harm: longitudinal ecological and patient-level investigation from the Multicentre Study of Self-harm in England

By: Keith Hawton, Helen Bergen, Galit Geulayov, Keith Waters, Jennifer Ness, Jayne Cooper, Navneet Kapur

Journal of Affective Disorders, 19, 132-138


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