Natural disasters and suicide: Evidence from Japan
Previous research shows no consensus as to whether and how natural disasters affect suicide rates in their aftermath. Using prefecture-level panel data of natural disasters and suicide in Japan between 1982 and 2010, we estimate both contemporaneous and lagged effects of natural disasters on the suicide rates of various demographic groups. We find that when the damage caused by natural disasters is extremely large, as in the case of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995, suicide rates tend to increase in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and several years later. However, when the damage by natural disasters is less severe, suicide rates tend to decrease after the disasters, especially one or two years later. Thus, natural disasters affect the suicide rates of affected populations in a complicated way, depending on the severity of damages as well as on how many years have passed since the disaster. We also find that the effects of natural disasters on suicide rates vary considerably across demographic groups, which suggests that some population subgroups are more vulnerable to the impact of natural disasters than others. We then test the possibility that natural disasters enhance people's willingness to help others in society, an effect that may work as a protective factor against disaster victims' suicidal risks. We find that natural disasters increase the level of social ties in affected communities, which may mitigate some of the adverse consequence of natural disasters, resulting in a decline in suicide rates. Our findings also indicate that when natural disasters are highly destructive and disruptive, such protective features of social connectedness are unlikely to be enough to compensate for the severe negative impact of disasters on health outcomes.
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Volume (Year): 82 (2013)
Issue (Month): C ()
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