Intertwined Factors of Suicide — Financial Distress and Mental Disorder
Presenter: Feijun Luo, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
As the U.S. economy is facing the biggest challenge since the Great Depression and financial crisis begins to unfold in many areas, suicide cases associated with financial distress are widely reported in the news media across the country. While many people tend to relate financial distress to those suicides, psychologists caution against this connection by claiming that suicide mainly results from mental disorder. Suicide is a relatively understudied topic in economics. Since Hamermesh and Soss (1974) laid out the economic framework for suicide in their seminal paper, there have been a number of suicide papers (Chuang & Huang, 1997; Kimenyi & Shughart, 1986; Marcotte, 2003; Minoiu & Andrés, 2008; Rosenthal, 1993; Yang, 1992; Yaniv, 2001) which extend the framework or provide new empirical evidence. Most of these papers conclude that economic factors such as unemployment, poverty, inequality, etc. play an important role in suicidal attempts. However, they tend to overlook the effect of mental health on suicidal attempts, which may make their results less persuasive. It is well known that financial distress and mental disorder are strongly but not completely correlated; therefore, it is more plausible to include both financial distress and mental disorder factors in suicide study.
In order to provide valuable insights into suicide prevention in the face of financial crisis, the authors conduct a comprehensive, updated suicide study which addresses both economic and psychological perspectives. The suicide data set employed by this study is “Mortality - Multiple Cause of Death,” which covers all 50 states from 1979 to 2005, the most comprehensive suicide data ever. This suicide study is conducted at the state level, with variations in the suicide rate across states and years being explained by a number of economic, psychological, and demographic factors. Specifically, the control variables reflecting financial distress include unemployment rate, household debt situation, and health insurance coverage, and the mental disorder variable is approximated by the serious mental illness (SMI) rate. In addition to including those variables as stand-alone variables in the model, the authors include the cross products of financial distress and mental disorder variables to reflect their compounding effect on suicide. The authors aim to provide a rigorous answer to how financial distress, mental disorder, and the interaction of financial distress and mental disorder account for suicide. The results of this study have important policy implications since they indicate that economic stabilization tools such as unemployment insurance, job creation, debt relief, bankruptcy prevention, etc. can generate social benefits in more areas than originally targeted ones.
Authors: Feijun Luo, Curtis Florence, Myriam Quispe-Agnoli
Session: Health Economics and Violence Prevention
Time: Wed 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.