Suicide has long been associated with unemployment. Becoming unemployed generally encompasses many aggravating events. These events may be the anxiety of the anticipation of a job loss, the inevitable hunt for a new job, and the build-up to a new form of employment. Such events will almost certainly cause a change in a person’s living patterns. This greatly increases the likelihood of depression, and consequently suicide (Preti, 2003). A study published in 2015 revealed that suicides due to unemployment made up 20% of the total number of suicides committed. The 63 countries studied had a total of 233,000 suicides per year, with approximately 45,000 of those being related to unemployment. This is a staggering amount and is a clear indicator that unemployment affects mental health. The study also showed the effect the worldwide economic crises of 2008 around suicide rates. In 2007, the pre-crisis year, there were 41,148 suicides linked to unemployment, while in 2009 there were 46,131, an increase of 4,983 (Nordt, Warnke, Seifritz, Kawohl 2015).  

It is not simply the financial aspect of unemployment that contributes to suicide. The Nordic countries offer free healthcare and free education, so unemployment is not as big a financial burden there in comparison to other countries, but it still has similar effects on mental health. A study conducted on Stockholm revealed that men who had low-paying jobs were far more psychologically healthy than the unemployed (Bartley,Ferrie,Montgomery 2005). The social acceptability of unemployment is an important factor in whether or not it leads to an increase in suicide rates. A study on the relationship between unemployment and suicide in Australia from 1985-2006 showed that when there was a higher rate of employment, a long period of unemployment was linked to higher suicide rates for men. When there was a lower rate of employment, long periods of unemployment were linked to lower rates of suicide rates for men (Milner, Page, Lamontagne 2012) Given these findings, unemployment can arguably be treated as a legitimate factor for suicide rates.                            

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Suicide rates before and after The Celtic Tiger

An Irish study carried out by Corcoran and Arensman (2009) shows that during the Celtic Tiger suicide rates among employed men and women remained stable between 1996-2006, while suicide amongst unemployed men increased. This study claims unemployment was associated with 2-3 times more risk of suicide amongst males and 4-6 times more amongst women. This clearly shows a link between unemployment and suicide rates.  Unemployment rose from 4.5% in 2007 to 14.7% in 2010 (Central Statistics Office, 2017). According to the National Office for Suicide Prevention in Ireland suicide rates rose from 424 in 2008 to 527 in 2009. That’s an increase of 24% (2009). These statistics make it hard to argue that unemployment and suicide rates aren’t somehow linked. There are many different reasons why unemployment may be associated with suicide. The loss of a job can cause increased stress and anxiety levels, it may loss also result in a break up of a healthy routine and cause low self-esteem. These factors coupled together may result in an increased risk of depression. This may ultimately lead to suicide (Blakely, Collings & Atkinson 2003). The end of the Celtic Tiger and the beginning of the worldwide economic recession in 2008 signified a significant change in Irish society. Ireland went from unprecedented economic growth to an unemployment high of 14.7%. It can be argued that the increased stress and change in individual’s social status and economic opportunities directly corresponds with the increased suicide rate in Ireland. This ultimately further backs up our theory that unemployment and suicide rates are linked.               

Government strategies

The Irish Government is implementing a strategy that aims to reduce suicide over the period of 2015-2020. This strategy sets out the Irish Government’s vision for suicide prevention, and a vision of Ireland where there are fewer lives lost through suicide, and communities that are empowered to improve their overall wellbeing as well as their mental health. The strategy set out is called ‘Connecting for Life’. Connecting for life is founded on the suicide prevention work that has taken place in Ireland as part of Reach Out, the government’s previous strategy to reduce suicide. This has been developed with national and international research being done into suicidal behaviours, along with a more developed and improved understanding of the evidence base for suicide prevention. The goals and objectives of this include a better understanding of suicidal behaviour, supporting communities to prevent and respond to suicidal behaviour, targeted approaches for those vulnerable to suicide, (such as those who have been recently unemployed or are facing financial difficulties), improved access, consistency and integration of services, safe and high-quality services, reduce access to means, and better data and research.

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There is no doubt that depression, mental health problems, and unemployment are all consequences of the inevitable link between health and unemployment. Based on the statistics published in 2005, we have been able to further observe the results of the infamous economic crisis. Consequently, the suicide rates in Ireland post the Celtic Tiger era were significantly higher. It’s clear the 2008 recession is the root cause of the many people made redundant both during and after this economic disaster. However, this link only further correlates unemployment and suicide. The government’s more recent intervention; ‘Connecting for Life’ sets out a strategic plan to reduce suicide over the space of five years. These proactive schemes do not only understand suicidal behavior but additionally support those at risk of suicide, as well as taking preventative methods into account. According to the Central Statistics Office, suicide rates in Ireland have decreased between 2015 and 2016 by nearly over 100,000. Furthermore, it could be said that the government’s obligatory intervention is gradually eradicating this growing connection between suicide and unemployment.

Danielle Dawson, Sean Hickson, Gráinne Moran, Emily Kramer, James Jordan