The suicide of Fannie Mae's chief financial officer reminded me of an old stat I'd read about the Great Depression being a historic apex for suicides. That, it seems, is correct. The peak was in 1933, with 17.4 out of every 100,000 Americans killing themselves. So can we expect to see a sharp rise in suicides again?
Happily, the rest of the century hasn't demonstrated any relationship between recessions and suicide. There are a variety of potential explanations for this: The welfare state renders recessions less hopeless and painful. Mental illness is better recognized and more easily noticed.
The weird point in the data is that unemployment is positively associated with suicide. But recessions aren't. That's a bit strange considering that unemployment increases amidst recessions. The answer appears to be that chronic unemployment is associated with other ailments -- mental illness, substance abuse, etc -- that also increase the risk of suicide. In recessions, the newly unemployed are less likely to suffer from those corollary afflictions -- they're unemployed because global capital markets suck rather than because they can't sustain regular habits -- and so aren't at quite the same risk.