14 February, 2009

Report: Unemployment caused 12000 suicides in 4 years

El Badeel reports: According to a report presented to the people's assembly by independent MP Gamal Zahraan, 12.000 young men in Egypt committed suicide in the last 4 years. The main cause, according to Zahraan, is high levels of unemployment. Zahraan also accuse the government of denying the true extent of the unemployment problem. While the government talk about unemployment levels of 9 percent, the IMF and the World Bank put the numbers at 18 and 22 percent.

While there is no way for me to judge the scientific credibility of this report, the numbers - if they are correct - point to a horrifying trend: In 2005 there was around 1100 suicides, in 2006 the number had risen to 2300 and in 2007 to 3700. In 2008 the number had almost doubled again, making the total 12.000 for the last 4 years. It's not unlikely that this trend is related to the dramatic rise in food prices and increasing economic hardships for Egypt's poor during the last years. With the global depression about to hit the tourism industry and other sectors of the Egyptian economy, the future looks dark.


  1. This is a mental health problem not primarily an economic one.

    Blaming unemployment for suicide without a credible causal link is complete non-sense. A statistically significant positive correlation might exist between unemployment and suicide but the real value or significance of this is questionable. Depression is main cause of suicide in the world.

    Suicide rates in Egypt, and most Islamic countries, are never publicized. Probably the reason is because suicide is stigmatized and considered a lack of faith.

    Studies were done by independent scholars in the 80s about suicide were very small and measured suicide rates in limited areas. They came up with a very small figure of 0.1 in 100,000. Suicide rate in Sweden is around 13 in 100,000.

    Those figures in the El-Badeel if credible they might be realistic. The 2007 number cited equals a rate of 5.3 in 100,000. While the 2008 figure is around 10.6 which is almost the same suicide rate in the USA and Chile.

    However, if these numbers were true, doubling in the number of suicides every year is alarming. A never heard of phenomenon, I think.

    A list of countries and their suicide rates:

  2. Interesting comment. Being a Swede myself, I often get questions about the high suicide rate in Sweden. Some ask me if this is not a result of excessive welfare - people having to easy and boring lives... A more credible explanation is that it has to do with statistics: Sweden is one of the most secular countries in the world and there is not a big stigma associated with suicides and no reason to hide the numbers.

    I agree that simplistic explanations should be avoided and that you can't simply blame unemployment for all suicides in Egypt, but I don't understand why there can't be a link between mental health and economic factors. We heard of many cases of people taking their lives after losing their savings in the financial crash, for example. Surely lacking any prospects of a meaningful occupation and living under constant economic hardships could increase the risk of becoming depressed? Economic prospects affect so many parts of a personal life - not least the ability to get married and start a family. The increase in the number of young egyptians who risk their lives to cross the Mediterrenean and migrate to Europe is another sign that fits into this trend.

  3. Economics control life events and depression is caused by both vulnerability (genetic or familial) and stress (life events like jobs, divorce, etc..).

    Yes, there is a link between economics and health (including mental health primarily). But linking economic hardships with suicide is what I disagree about.

    Here is a diagram that might explain my point of view.

    This is like linking economy with coughing. Economy affects the number of people who develop TB for example. But TB is the reason people are coughing more.

    There are reasons for suicide other than depression BTW.