Suicide: The Other Economic Depression


This is LaTasha Peeler's great depression.

After losing her job as a receptionist a year ago, Peeler, 29, thought she would quickly find something else and get back on her feet. Then, her mother died and the economy cratered.

Today, Peeler, a 29-year-old veteran, remains jobless, depressed and living in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"I just keep wondering, 'How can I get out of this situation?' I'm stressed, I'm sick, I feel anxious. I'm really depressed. I worry that I'll never find a job, no matter how many resumes I submit," she said.

It got so bad she wanted to die.

"Last January I attempted suicide by trying to slit my wrists. I spent 10 days at the VA hospital in the psych ward because of stress and depression," said Peeler, who receives just $247 a month in disability from the military.

The recession has taken its toll on millions of Americans, many of whom have lost their jobs, their homes and their savings. The faltering economy has also exacted a psychological toll, leading some people to experience anxiety, depression and to contemplate suicide.

Though most of the headlines regarding government help focus on the automakers and financial services companies, the Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday launched a Web site to aid those facing a mental health crisis in light of the difficult economic times.

The Web site, A Guide to Getting Through Tough Economic Times, teaches people to identify symptoms of depression and lists resources on where to find help.

Suicide Hotlines See Spike

Comparing the emotional impact of the recession to that of living through a disaster, like a hurricane, A. Kathryn Power, director of the Center for Mental Health Services, said the department was prompted to launch the site after noticing a spike in calls to suicide prevention hotlines.

Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, run by HHS, increased 27 percent year over year, from 39,465 calls in January 2008 to 50,158 calls in January 2009.

"We believed this was an appropriate time to launch the site because of an increase in inquiries from our partners and an uptick in calls to our toll-free numbers, including the suicide lifeline," Power said.

Suicide Rates Rise in Down Economy Historically

The site lists "unemployment, foreclosures, loss of investments and other financial distress" as "devastating to your emotional and mental well-being."

Depression, anxiety, compulsive behaviors like overeating and excessive gambling, as well as suicide can all be triggered by facing difficult economic problems, according to the guide.

There is currently no national data on recent suicides -- the newest figures, to be released later this month, cover deaths from 2006 -- so, researchers cannot say emphatically that suicides have increased in the past year.

However, suicide rates do historically correlate with downturns in the economy, and there has been an increase in calls to prevention hotlines this year, said Dr. Paula Clayton, the medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Clayton said that 90 percent of people who commit suicide displayed symptoms of diagnosable mental disorders before killing themselves. But she said a singular life-changing event, like losing one's home, job or personal finances, could lead down the dark path to suicide.

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