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Fatal fallout of financial failure

Economic woes in Asia a decade ago heralded rapid increases in suicide rates in hard-hit places

When an economy goes bad in a hurry, lives aren’t just ruined — tragically, they’re sometimes lost. A currency collapse that spread across much of Asia from July 1997 to January 1998 was closely related to an abrupt upsurge in suicide rates in economically devastated Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, a new study finds.

Compared with 1997, suicide rates in those places rose in 1998 by around 40 percent for men and 20 percent for women, reports a group led by psychiatrist Shu-Sen Chang of the University of Bristol in England. That translates to about 10,400 more suicides in 1998 than in the preceding year, the researchers conclude in a paper published online February 4 in Social Science & Medicine.

Suicide rates continued to increase gradually through 2006 in Hong Kong and South Korea but leveled off after 1999 in Japan.

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