Suicide Rates Increase Under Conservative Governments

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health shows that the suicide rate increases under Conservative governments. Australian scientists found the suicide rate in the country increased significantly when a Conservative government was in power. An analysis of figures in the UK suggests a similar trend.

The Australian team analysed suicide statistics for New South Wales between 1901, when the federal government was established, and 1998. They took into account periods of drought and World War II, because of their economic and psychological impact (suicide rates were higher during those periods.) After adjusting for these factors, the figures showed the highest rates of suicide occurred when both Conservative state and federal governments were in power. Conversely, the lowest rates occurred when state and federal governments were both Labor.

Why?

The authors note that Conservative rule traditionally implies a less interventionist, more market-orientated policy than Labor rule, which may make people feel more detached from society. Lead researcher Professor Richard Taylor, of the University of Sydney, told BBC News Online:

We think that it may be because material conditions in lower socio-economic groups may be relatively better under labor because of government programs, and there may be a perception of greater hope by these groups under labor.  There is a strong relationship between socio-economic status and suicide.

The British Situation

In one of a series of accompanying editorials, Dr Mary Shaw and colleagues from the University of Bristol say the same patterns were evident in England and Wales between 1901 and 2000 where suicide rates have been lower under Labor governments and soared under the last Conservative regime which began in 1979 under Margaret Thatcher. They fell under the more moderate John Major, rose slightly under Tony Blair, and have since fallen. Overall, they say, the figures suggest:

  • 35,000 people would not have died had the Conservatives not been in power.
  • That’s equivalent to one suicide for every day of the 20th century.
  • It’s also equivalent to two suicides for every day that the Conservatives ruled.

It’s Not Just Economics

Interestingly, the authors point out that although suicide rates tend to increase when unemployment is high, they were also above average during the 1950s when Britain was doing well economically but was ruled by the Conservative party.

What About the U.S.?

suicide_rate_since_1993_2010

A Similar Trend: The above chart, from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, shows a similar trend. Note:

  • A decreasing trend during the term of Bill Clinton (1993 – 2001)
  • An increasing trend during the term of G.W. Bush (2001 – 2009)

The Disproportionate Rise Under George W. Bush (2001 – 2009): The rate of suicide in the United States rose sharply during the first few years since the start of the recession, according to a new analysis report which appeared on the Web site of The Lancet, a medical journal. Researchers found that the rate between 2008 and 2010 increased four times faster than it did in the eight years before the recession.

However, the report finds that the rate had already been increasing during the presidency of George W. Bush by an average of 0.12 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 through 2007, which is apparent from the chart above. In 2008, the rate began increasing by an average of 0.51 deaths per 100,000 people a year, raising the total deaths from suicide each year by about 1,500.

The Exacerbating Effect of Conservative Policies:  We know, of course, that suicide rates often spike during economic downturn. Recent studies of rates in Greece, Spain and Italy have found similar trends. The report shows that every rise of 1 percent in unemployment was accompanied by an increase in the suicide rate of roughly 1 percent, and a similar correlation has been found in some European countries since the recession.

But also significant is the finding that the U.S. increase was larger than estimated. According to the authors:

The magnitude of these effects is slightly larger than for those previously estimated in the United States. That might mean that this economic downturn has been harder on mental health than previous ones.

Wealth Inequality: Or, perhaps, the effect of a conservative government? One reason that it is difficult to separate this out is that the policies of G.W. Bush’s conservative government – and preceding conservative governments – directly resulted in the record unemployment rates. The stock market has fared better under Democratic presidencies, but, perhaps, most significant, is the effect of policies that tilt the playing field toward the average citizen over the elite 2% of Americans. It is by now well established growing wealth inequality has greatly diminished the economic status and prospects for average and lower income Americans.

Mass Murders Are Also Suicides: The U.S. is overstocked with guns and assault rifles, and, as a result, there are far more shooting deaths here than anywhere in the world. This naturally includes suicides. Mass murders are quite often suicide attempts that take others down with the perpetrator. Here are the alarming statistics about suicide gun deaths in the U.S.:

  • Death by firearms is the fastest growing method of suicide.
  • Firearms account for 50 percent of all suicides.
  • Firearms are used in more suicides than homicides.
  • 83% of gun-related deaths in homes of people who reportedly keep a firearm in their home for “protection” or “self defense,”are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner.

The Complicity of the Gun Lobby

zc-percentage-total-suicides-by-method-2000-2003-ca-2007-us

The now infamous speech by the NRA’s executive vice president Wayne LaPierre called for armed police in every school. Of course, he knows that this is impossible, and furthermore, as a conservative Republican, like Grover Norquist, who sits on the NRA’s board of directors, he would never support the tax increase required to facilitate the hiring of enough policeman to accomplish this. According to Lawrence O’Donnell:

Just based on the median salary for police officers in America, that would cost $6.7 billion a year. There is not a town or city or state in America that has extra money lying around today to hire extra police officers.

If $6.7 billion had to be raised from new taxes, then, of course, Grover Norquist would use all of his powers to oppose those taxes — Grover Norquist, who is, of course, a member of the board of the National Rifle Association.

So, the CEO of the NRA took to a microphone in Washington today to suggest a solution to the massacres of children in our schools and the solution is something he and his friends would not be willing to pay for. And he and his friends would attack any politician who attempted to pay for it.

Conservatism Devalues Life

So now that a correlation between suicide deaths and conservative government has been established, there is plenty of room for discussion about the reasons for that correlation. I can suggest a few conjectural ones, based on my own observations and logical inference, although I would repeat that these are only conjectural. I believe the key is that conservatism devalues life.

Disregard for The Sanctity of Life: Of course, religious conservatives purport to be pro-life, but this concern for the sanctity of life notably ends at birth. This demographic are disproportionate supporters of policies that threaten life after birth, including wars abroad and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including domestic assault weapons.

Policies That Devalue Life: Conservatives also disproportionately support policies that devalue life after birth, including policies that impoverish the middle and low income Americans in favor of the elite 2%.

Ideologies That Devalue Life: Conservatives typically espouse ideologies that flirt with civil libertarianism, favoring individual rights over collective responsibility as a functioning community. This ideology is akin to social Darwinism, in which the strongest individual claws his way to the top at the expense of everyone else. Psychologist Eric Fromm wrote about this “authoritarian personality” in his famous book Escape from Freedom.

Corporatism/Fascism:  The interesting disconnect among radical individualists is that they have been confused into supporting the notion that corporate rights trump individual rights – “corporations are people, my friend.” Although it is often inflammatory to use the term, this is the true essence of fascism.

The classic definition of the word “fascist” has been altered over the years, which handily conceals the fact that the American right is largely fascist. Let’s examine the definition that Mussolini had in mind when he claimed to have invented the word.

The term was actually Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile who wrote the entry in the Encyclopedia Italiana that read as follows:

Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power. (Mussolini affixed his name to the entry, and claimed credit for it.)

As the 1983 American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is:

A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.

Thom Hartman notes that instead of “We The People,” a fascist government would be a government of, by, and for the most powerful corporate interests in the nation. He points out that:

In 1938, Mussolini brought his vision of fascism into full reality when he dissolved Parliament and replaced it with the “Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni” – the Chamber of the Fascist Corporations. Corporations were still privately owned, but now instead of having to sneak their money to folks like Tom DeLay and covertly write legislation, they were openly in charge of the government.

Foreign Scapegoats: Today’s conservatives support an unnecessarily bloated military that, while purporting to protect the nation, has provoked attacks by “terrorists” that U.S. policy has largely created. Of course, Middle East Moslems are the scapegoats of U.S. conservative policy today, even though these elements were almost entirely created as the result of U.S. interventionalist policy in the Middle East.

A Permanent Underclass: Another feature of conservative policy is the creation of a permanent underclass. The record number of un- and under-employed today is the result of economic policies that have systematically undermined labor over the years. Large corporations like Wal-Mart have created a nation of wage slaves, and a  growing Prison Industry, such as Colorado Correctional Industries gets its labor dirt cheap. Right to work laws are being implemented to further undermine American wages.

The ideological side of this devastating economic trend is that the poor and former, now struggling middle class are being scapegoated for the failure of American business to provide a living wage for its employees. After creating a record budget deficit, business leaders and corporate-led Republican politicians are calling for the middle and lower classes to pay the price by proposing to slash federal spending on social programs and dismantle/privatize them step by step.

Intolerance: Opposition to human rights, including women’s reproductive rights, and gay and lesbian rights demeans people for simply being what they are. Demonizing undocumented workers as “illegal aliens” rather than seeking a path to citizenship for responsible people seeking opportunities, and dog whistle racism in politics are psychologically debilitating violations of human rights.

Conclusions

In short, an economic and governmental system that serves the needs of the elite, and simultaneously feeds the authoritarian tendencies of the intolerant creates a psychologically debilitating environment. This is fueled by fear through the introduction of conservative legislation that targets people for their gender, ethnicity and orientation, including stand-your-ground laws, laws that preclude people from marrying the ones they love, and laws that intend to deprive people of their most basic rights, including their right to vote.

It really is no surprise that the suicide rate increases under conservative rule, as individual opportunity is drained away and respect for individual differences gives way to intolerance and persecution.

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