Wealth and Suicide

Depressing Reality About Rich Countries

Does wealth affect mental health? As I researched on the question, I saw an interesting article on how money changes the way a person thinks and feels. Here is a fascinating comment within the article:

“Wealthier children tend to be more distressed than lower-income kids, and are at high risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, cheating, and stealing.”

One might assume that lower-income families are in more risk of mental health issues because they have more challenging situations such as providing for their basic needs, so it’s surprising to learn that wealthier people are more prone to mental distress.

With that in mind, I want to test this at a higher level. Are higher-income countries more prone to mental disorders than lower-income countries?

It is hard to quantify the number people who have mental disorders and also the total wealth of a country, so I will use indicators that represent wealth and mental disorder. As tragic as it may seem, suicide is one of the awful results of mental disorders. I will use suicide rates as an indicator for mental disorder. I will also use the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country as an indicator of wealth as wealthier countries tend to have higher GDPs.

Let’s start

I will analyze the relationship of GDP per Capita (GDP per person in a country) and suicides per 100,000 population to see if richer countries are more susceptible to suicides.

I chose a dataset that has information about countries’ GDP, age group, sex, and suicide rates in the years 1985 to 2016.

I narrowed down my analysis to 6 countries (2 with the highest GDP per capita, 2 with the lowest GDP per capita, and 2 with average GDP per capita). Since there is a significant difference in suicide rates in males and females, I only chose males.

  1. USA (Highest GDP per Capita)
  2. Canada (Highest GDP per Capita)
  3. Spain (Average GDP per Capita)
  4. Greece (Average GDP per Capita)
  5. Paraguay (Lowest GDP per Capita)
  6. Thailand (Lowest GDP per Capita)

GDP per Capita

Thailand and Paraguay show almost straight lines. This means that these countries are spending almost the same on their goods and services consumption and production every year without much increase. These countries also have a significant gap in GDP per capita compared to the average and high GDP per capita countries.

There is almost the same movement in the GDP for Spain and Greece. This is probably because they belong to the same continent and might have the same economic conditions.

Finally, we see the lines for US and Canada on top. Although United States has more steady increase in GDP, we can also say that Canada and United States generally have upward movement in GDP.

Suicides per 100,000 population

It is interesting to see that Thailand, Paraguay, Greece, and Spain have about the same rates of suicide per 100,000 people. This shows that there is not much relationship between suicide and GDP for the average and poor countries. However, there is a significant gap between high GDP countries and average-low GDP countries.

The visualization answers my question earlier and also supports the idea that rich countries are more prone to mental disorders compared to average and poor countries.

One more test

Even though there is an obvious difference in the suicide rates in rich countries in the graph, we will take another step and do a statistical analysis on this comparison.

In order to test this, I combined the data from the 6 countries and did a statistical analysis on the correlation of GDP per Capita and suicide rates per 100,000 population.

With the correlation test, I get 0.493 adjusted r squared with these variables. This means that there is a modest correlation with GDP and suicide rates. Based on the analysis, we can also conclude that we are confident that there is a statistical significant association with these variables.

How about other countries?

Now that I’ve proven that there is a correlation between GDP and suicide rates, I want to see if there are other factors that might affect suicides other than the wealth of a country. I will the next 5 highest GDP countries and see their suicide rates.

Here are the countries:

  • Kuwait
  • Luxembourg
  • Iceland
  • Japan
  • Australia

The countries are represented by the gray lines, except for Kuwait, which is colored in gold. Most of the countries are close to the Canada and United States lines. This implies that although GDP has a strong correlation with suicide rate, it is not the only factor that affects suicides.

Let’s take Kuwait for example. Kuwait is in gold line. According to a research done in Kuwait, religion and culture have something to do with the suicides that happen there. In addition, most of the suicides are from expats and non-Kuwaiti workers that couldn’t run from the ill treatment of their employers. So, in general, the living conditions of the people of Kuwait are conducive for good mental health.

Why suicide?

There are some outliers like Kuwait, but there is generally a strong correlation between GDP and suicide. This begs the question, why are richer countries more exposed to suicides?

Experts say that in pursuit of money, people tend to neglect relationships and even compromise their health which leads to emptiness and loneliness. To relate that in a national level, in the collective quest for economic improvement, the things that matter most are often forgotten, and people look for things that fill their emptiness when they should have been looking inwards to really see what’s lacking within. Perhaps it should be an individual conscious effort to take care of oneself in pursuit of personal and national improvement. In the end, it’s not the wealth that defines the mental health of a person but the living conditions of being wealthy individual.

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