SUICIDE rates have more than doubled in Sunderland as the city struggles with the recession, according to new figures reveal.
Coroners courts found that 3,471 people across the country had taken their own lives last year, a rise of 15 per cent compared to 2007.
However, local hotspots, including Sunderland, have seen numbers dramatically increase.
Inquests in the city recorded 17 suicide verdicts in 2011, up from seven just five years ago, when the credit crunch first began to bite.
Experts and campaigners blamed sky-high rates of unemployment, home repossessions and personal bankruptcy for the grim toll – and they warned that the bleak economic outlook could see the trend worsen.
Jane Harris, of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: “These figures are very worrying. In a time of recession, people are more liable to develop stress, anxiety and depression, and these conditions can lead to suicidal feelings.
“They are more likely to be worried about money, keeping their jobs, about putting food on the table and paying the mortgage. People who already have a mental illness are especially vulnerable.
“We are now deeply concerned that the situation will only get worse over the next few years because it is clear that the full effects of the recession have yet to be felt.”
Dr David Sanders, Head of Psychology at the University of Sunderland, said: “If you are unemployed you are two or three times more likely to commit suicide.
“There has been a great deal of research in the this area. It is a problem all over the world, not just in this country.
“But it is difficult to put it down to one single factor. There are other issues, such as alcohol consumption, drug abuse and general mental health, which also play a part.”
Theresa Finch runs the local branch of debt counselling charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP), based at Bethshan Church, in Park Road, Sunderland.
“Almost all of our clients here in Sunderland have had difficulty sleeping because of worry about their debt, and most have said that even after the first visit they were sleeping much better, with a load taken off their shoulders,” she said.
“At least half have visited their GP as a result of stress, anxiety and depression and been prescribed medication. Some of these have also mentioned suicidal thoughts.
“Although many of our clients are living on tight budgets, without the constant worry of debt, they are often able to begin to enjoy their lives again.
The latest Coroners Statistics reveal that there were 3,471 suicide verdicts returned in England and Wales last year, up seven per cent from 3,252 in 2010 and 15 per cent from 3,007 in 2007.
Regionally, over the past five years, the North East has seen a 23 per cent rise, London and the West Midlands 24 per cent, while only the East Midlands’s total has fallen, down four per cent.
But at a more local level, some areas have seen the numbers more than double, including Berkshire, Gloucestershire, South Staffordshire, North Lincolnshire and Powys.
To contact CAP, call 0800 328 0006 or visit www.capdebthelp.org.