PARIS - Between 2008 to 2011, the economic crisis pushed France’s unemployment numbers up by nearly 650,000. But it also had another, even more dramatic impact: over the same three-year period, the crisis is estimated to have led to 750 additional suicides and 10,780 more attempted suicides in France.
These are not official figures, but they do come from a highly reliable source: Michel Debout, a psychiatrist and forensic science professor who is considered France’s top specialist on the topic of suicide.
Michel Debout bases his work on a study published in December 2011 by the National Institute of Health Surveillance, which assessed the rate of attempted suicides per year among the unemployed. The professor applied this rate to the number of additional job-seekers since 2008, and then – taking into account things like gender and age – used a correlation factor between suicide attempts and suicide deaths to calculate a "human cost of the crisis."
Debout says his estimate of 750 “is a considerably toned-down figure because I only take the unemployment factor into account.” The crisis, he explains, “has other effects, like poverty, debt and divorce, which also increase the risk of committing suicide… "
The suicide specialist has decided to come out with his statistics because he is "very angry" at what he sees as apathy by the French government. The latest available suicide figures from the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) date back to 2009 and estimate the annual number here at 10,500. Such a high figure already ranked France among the most affected nations in Europe, and placed suicide as a major public health problem.
Debout says he made his concerns known back in 2009, warning that the crisis would have dramatic effects on those in distress, and insisting that the state had a "duty to rescue" the most destitute. But to no avail.
The historical correlation between unemployment and suicide is undeniable, and worrying for the coming years. The psychiatry professor notes that a significant increase in suicides was observable two to three years after the Great Depression began.
"The worst can be feared for 2012 and 2013, particularly among 40- to 55-year-olds,” he says. “Why can’t we organize a medical and psychological support for the unemployed? Society would show these people that they still matter! Jobless people commit suicide because socially, they are already dead. "
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Photo – Bertrand Hauger