Homeless individualIt has been almost three years since Alberta was shocked by plummeting oil prices in mid-2014. A province booming with industry and employment opportunities was suddenly faced with an economic collapse, characterized by capital flight and unemployment. Despite being responsible for creating 87 per cent of the net job growth in the country in 2013, Alberta has become an industrial ghost town.

Between late 2015 and early 2016 Alberta began making headlines. Articles frequently came out detailing the damage that the province faced because of the crash in the oil market. This economic crisis has naturally placed enormous pressure on the workers whose jobs were cut because of it, and since then the epidemic has been referred to as “the death of the Albertan dream” (Maclean’s).

In September 2014, an Edmonton worker stated, “Every time I was in a position where I needed to find a job, it didn’t take me long to find one… Jobs are open, they’re available… it’s pretty awesome” (CBC). By March 2016, another worker stated that he “knows how much pressure comes from working in the trades, describing it as a ‘sink or swim’ environment” (Edmonton Journal). Other interviews with workers revealed that some would need to completely leave the province to find new work elsewhere, while many had completely uprooted their lives to chase those jobs that now no longer existed.

The pressures placed on the workers by this crisis have manifested, for many, in the form of suicide. In December of 2015, it was reported that in Alberta from January to June, there were 327 suicides, 75 more suicides than the same period in 2014. As of April 2016, a 60 per cent increase in suicides from the previous year had been reported. This ongoing suicide crisis has received little attention, in contrast to the extensive coverage of the broader economics.

In Alberta specifically, counselors for the Calgary Distress Center reported 2015 as the hardest year they had yet to encounter, with demand for counseling services having increased by 80 per cent. Interviews with counselors at the distress center revealed the seriousness of mental health issues and suicide. It became clear that economic stress, combined with regular day-to-day stresses already present for many workers, could have been the final push. As one worker, Nancy Burgeron, stated, “People are just at wit’s end and they’re contemplating it, right?”

Medicine Hat was hit especially hard by the suicide crisis in 2016: As of 15 April, the city reported a 60 per cent increase in suicides and attempts from that time last year, which would mean a suicide or suicide attempt every 2.8 days if the trend continued. While the Centre for Suicide Prevention has yet to release official statistics for provincial and national suicide rates in 2016, preliminary data suggests that rates have lowered, but not to their pre-crisis state. While it is no surprise that economic crisis has lasting economic effects (in March 2016, the Bank of Canada warned that recovery from the oil crash would take more than two years), it can be easy to overlook the impact crises have on actual lives.

Beyond Alberta’s suicide crisis, a similar relationship emerged between economic crisis and suicide rates in Greece, Spain, and Italy, as each nation’s economy was hit hard by the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

In June of 2015, Medscape reported that austerity measures in Greece were accompanied by a 35 per cent increase in suicide rates in the past two years, just as the country’s unemployment rate was reaching close to 30 per cent. "Our main finding was that after 2010, when harsh austerity measures were implemented in Greece, we noted a significant increase in suicide rates for the years 2011 and 2012 in comparison to the period between 2003 and 2010," stated George Rachiotis, MD, PhD. It is undeniable that the increasing suicide rate resulted from Greece’s economic crisis and the government’s austerity policies.

Dr. Rachiotis continued, "Austerity heightens suicide risks directly by creating job losses, especially among public sector workers, and by increasing economic insecurity." Not only does austerity directly affect people’s lives by limiting their access to essential services and taking jobs, but it is also associated with diminished mental health and increased hopelessness, which in the most extreme cases can manifest as suicide.

Spain reported a 20% rise in suicide trends since the economic crisis began, leaving suicide to cause more than twice the number of deaths as traffic accidents. This figure was reported in March of 2016, but suicide rates began to rise in 2007, just before Spain’s economy was hit. The economic crisis hit Spain in predictable ways: mass austerity and unemployment, followed by large-scale house repossessions. These factors are considered to have together contributed most to the spike in suicide rates.

A psychiatrist interviewed by The Local stated, “In Spain we tended to equate psychological security with economic security and have sacrificed things like family, relationships and personal well-being along the way. Now we find such sacrifices have been in vain.” These words demonstrate the priority workers are forced to place on money, even over their own personal well-being.

In June of 2013, it was reported that Italy had experienced a 40 per cent increase in “financially related suicides,” half of which were attributed, according to the Report on Global Rights 2013, to the “precarious” economic situation in the country, and 28 per cent linked directly with loss of employment. The state of the economy in Italy had been racing through a downward spiral for the past couple of years: In 2012 a quarter of the country’s population lived in “deprived families”, while this number was 16 per cent just two years prior. In addition to this, the unemployment rate had reached 12.2 per cent by May of 2013.

Mental health experts in Italy were more reluctant to confirm the direct link between the economic crisis and suicide crisis, but they still could not deny that a strong relationship exists: “‘I believe that unbearable psychological pain is the main ingredient in determining suicide,’ Pompili said. ‘When you have hopelessness, and you don’t have expectations about what good can come in the future’” … “suicide stems from an ‘unbearable psychological pain’ that may arise from job loss or failure” (Aljazeera).

Since experts are even starting to label these suicides as “financially related,” it seems that there must be something that can be done. While Alberta’s experts have created support groups and made resources more readily available to those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, this is clearly not enough. When considering the options for intervention in Italy, experts muttered things like, “At the moment, municipalities are complaining that they don’t have enough money to assist the poor”.

Similarly, in Greece it was reported, "The state provides Medicaid coverage, and there are mental health centers for outpatient mental health care, but they are all full to capacity, and the waiting time to get to see somebody can be months, which obviously doesn't do patients any good because the vast majority of them have acute mental health issues that need to be addressed within a week or two, not within six months."

In an article on Alberta’s suicide crisis, the head of the Centre for Suicide Prevention stated, "In the budget we saw money specifically earmarked for mental health and we're hoping that some of it will be directly put into suicide prevention."

Such statements only show the inability of the capitalist system to remedy the consequences of its own economic crises—we cannot even count on proper resources to be available when lives are at stake. This is not because the finances necessary to create these resources do not exist. The reality is that suicides directly linked to economic crisis would not exist outside of an economic system that is increasingly prone to instability and crises. The only way to end financially related suicide crises is to end the economic system that allows them to happen.

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