Self-harm increased 50% in middle-aged men after the 2008 financial crisis

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The number of middle-aged men who self-harmed increased by 50% in the four years following the 2008 financial crisis, researchers discover

  • Scientists from the University of Manchester studied 25,000 hospital visits 
  • They found more men were harming themselves because of money problems
  • Doctors should take the opportunity to intervene and prevent suicides

There was a 50 per cent spike in self-harm among middle-aged men after the financial crash of 2008, according to scientists.

A study has found the numbers of men harming themselves rose ‘significantly’ after the credit crunch.

People aged between 40 and 59 are the most likely to self-harm, according to researchers, and common triggers include alcohol problems and financial trouble.

If people turn up at hospital after self-harm incidents, they added, they should be targeted with interventions to stop them doing it again.

Researchers from the University of Manchester reviewed records of almost 25,000 self-harm related hospital visits by middle-aged people between 2000 and 2013.

Men were more likely than women to self-harm after drinking alcohol and were at a higher risk of harming themselves because of financial problems, according to researchers (stock image)

Men were more likely than women to self-harm after drinking alcohol and were at a higher risk of harming themselves because of financial problems, according to researchers (stock image)

These made up more than a quarter (26 per cent) of all visits in this category, making the 40- and 50-somethings the most vulnerable group.

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‘There were striking increases in the rate of self-harm in men which may well have been related to economic as well as clinical factors,’ said lead researcher, Dr Caroline Clements.

They found self-harm among middle-aged men rose by 50 per cent between 2008 and 2012.

After the credit crunch of 2007-08, triggered in part by banks selling mortgages to people who couldn’t afford to pay them, millions of people worldwide lost their jobs.

Housing prices crashed, people ended up with less cash in their pockets and the Government began austerity measures to pay back money it borrowed to bail out banks – this led to higher taxes and fewer benefits.

Problems with money and housing were found to be associated with men’s self-harm, and this effect appeared to become stronger during the credit crunch.

HOW DID THE FINANCIAL CRISIS HAPPEN?

The 2008 financial crisis was described by many as the worst recession since the US’s Great Depression in the 1930s.

It was triggered by banks, mainly in the US, trying to make money by selling mortgages of more than 100 per cent to people who couldn’t afford to pay them – called subprime mortgages.

Banks then traded these mortgages on the stock exchange but the bubble burst when bankers realised what was happening and refused to lend money to one another in exchange for mortgages which would never be paid off.

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Investors then began to sell off their shares in the banks after realising they had so many worthless assets.

As a result, the banks in the US, UK and across the world lost money and the stock market began to crumble. Governments had to borrow money to bail out massive financial institutions – such as Lehman Brothers in the US and Northern Rock in the UK – and millions of jobs were lost.

In the UK, this government borrowing meant a programme of austerity – spending cuts, slashed benefits and higher taxes – took money out of people’s pockets.

‘In men self-harm was more often characterised by alcohol use within six hours prior to self-harm, unemployment, and… problems relating to finances and housing,’ the researchers said in their study.

They added: ‘Self-harm in the more recent [group] was more often associated with characteristics related to economic distress including high unemployment, problems with finances, and difficulties with housing.

‘These factors are known to be related to increases in suicidal behaviour, and may have driven a rise in self-harm in middle-aged men.’

The same rise in self-harm was not seen in women, who were more likely to harm themselves because of mental health problems, the scientists added.  

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But the men’s increase was roughly in line with a national increase in suicides.

Men who self-harmed were more likely to die or self-harm again within the next year, but were less likely to be getting specialist mental health care.

Professor Nav Kapur, a senior author of the paper said: ‘Men in midlife are a group we are particularly worried about because of their high rate of suicide.

‘This study shows how important self-harm is too. It’s the main risk factor for suicide but crucially it’s an opportunity to intervene.

‘Our research highlights the potential importance of economic factors, so providing advice for unemployment, housing, and financial problems is likely to be helpful.

‘But improving access to services and tackling alcohol misuse could have a big impact too.

‘Some men, though, might be reluctant to seek help for their problems and there are a number of initiatives around the country trying to reach men through sporting or other awareness raising campaigns.’

The research was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. 

If you or someone you know is at risk of harming themselves, call Samaritans for free on 116 123 or go to www.samaritans.org



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