Unemployment is one of the most controversial political topics in the U.S. right now: Congress recently put on hold its vote on an unemployment benefits extension that would have granted benefits to hundreds of thousands of Americans. Instead, the Senate will wait to vote, putting pressure on families that might be relying on benefits to survive on a day-to-day basis.

Unemployment isn’t just a political issue — it’s a very personal one for those affected first-hand. One way in which unemployment is manifesting itself is through suicide. The number of calls to suicide hotlines has grown in the past few months as long-term unemployment and joblessness have plagued the nation.

More Calls to Suicide Hotlines

Though it is tough to measure actual suicides because federal statistics generally lag a couple of years behind, one way to gauge a nation’s suicidal activity is to measure calls to help hotlines.

Calls to The National Suicide Prevention Network spiked 18% in the first five months of this year, according to AOLNews.com. Americans made 59,500 calls to the hotline in May alone. Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, based in Los Angeles, received twice as many calls in 2008 as it did one year previous. More of those callers than ever mention economics as a stressful part of their lives.

Suicide, Unemployment Correlated Throughout History

Suicide rates have tended to trend up or down based on the health of the job market, according to “The Long-Range Impact of the Recession on Families,” by Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College.

Suicides hit what was at the time a high-water mark in 1933, the heart of the great depression. As unemployment surged to 25%, the U.S. suicide rate rose to 17 in every 100,000 citizens. Coontz theorizes that males suffer most in a recession because they often feel exceedingly responsible for their family’s finances.

“Men are more likely than women to experience job or income loss as a fundamental threat to their identity,” Coontz said in the paper.

Unemployment Remains a Major Problem

While extending unemployment benefits could help stem the tide of desperate families, the unemployment picture is not showing any definite signs of rebounding any time soon. The addition of thousands of U.S. Census workers to the economy helped temporarily, but the nation is still facing widespread unemployment.

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