Another Study Ties Higher Minimum Wage with Reduced Suicides

I’ve written about it before: Economics and suicide are tied. To be clear, that’s not to say that poor people are more likely to die by suicide; by and large, suicide crosses economic boundaries. What is more likely to be associated with increases or decreases in suicide rates is a change in economic status: An increase leads to lowered suicide rates, while a decrease leads to higher rates.

And that brings us to this study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. The study examined 25 years of economic and suicide rates in all fifty states and Washington, D.C. From the results of the study:

The effect of a US$1 increase in the minimum wage ranged from a 3.4% decrease (95% CI 0.4 to 6.4) to a 5.9% decrease (95% CI 1.4 to 10.2) in the suicide rate among adults aged 18–64 years with a high school education or less. We detected significant effect modification by unemployment rate, with the largest effects of minimum wage on reducing suicides observed at higher unemployment levels.

In other words, an increase in the minimum wage can save lives.

This study was picked up in numerous major media outlets, including CNN and NPR. As the CNN story noted, if you assume that the data from this story is accurate, an increase of $2 could have saved upwards of 40,000 lives between 2009-2015.

This study shows many things, but there are two, in particular, I want to focus on.

First: It challenges the idea that suicide is exclusively related to mental health, or at least adds a qualifier and a modifier to that idea. I think that when most people think of suicide, they think that a person who dies by suicide must be mentally ill. That makes sense, of course, and it’s a perfectly logical conclusion to reach. However, it’s not completely supported by the evidence. If depression was the only thing that mattered when it came to a suicide attempt, the minimum wage wouldn’t make a difference unless you assume that economic status is tied directly to mental health.

What this shows, again, is that suicide is not simply a matter of mental illness.

And that leads me to my second point: Everything is connected. Mental health is deeply connected to economics, and if we can ensure a robust social safety net, fair wages and equal opportunity, we can reduce suicides and save lives. This study proves it – again – and it isn’t even the first to make the argument that work and work hours are tied to minimum wage.

As public policymakers, we have a job to address major problems (like the massive spike in suicides) in a manner that is holistic and comprehensive. That means not only improving access to mental health care but reducing the causes of suicide.

That means increasing the minimum wage.

New postpartum drug highlights continuing divide between the rich and the poor

Let’s start with the good news: For the first time ever, the FDA has approved a drug specifically designed to deal with postpartum depression (PPD). The drug is called Zulresso, and it is produced by Sage Therapeutics.

We know that PPD can be absolutely devastating. According to the article linked above, as many as one in nine women are hit by PPD. So the availability of a clinically successful drug designed specifically for PPD can be a godsend.

Now for the bad news: The cost and time period associated with Zulresso may put it far out of reach of many.

First, the cost: A whopping $34,000. That number might be slightly out of range for…you know, everyone not made of money.

As for it’s method of delivery? That’s another challenge: It has to be administered intravenously, over a 2.5 day period, in a certified clinic. That’s 2.5 days where a woman cannot work, cannot care for her baby (or the rest of her family). And let’s keep in mind, many women simply cannot afford to take 2.5 days off from work, and this is particularly true for hourly workers or those who are economically insecure.

Tragically – and unsurprisingly – women who need this help the most are also most likely to have this drug and its potential benefits out of reach. There are some women who are more likely to experience PPD, and unsurprisingly, in many cases, these are women who are more economically or socially vulnerable. These factors include job loss and a lack of other emotional, familial or financial support.

Simply put, this may mean that this new drug it is not an option for many. We know that tougher economic times – and tougher economic circumstances – lead to an increase in PPD cases. This treatment – both its costs and length of treatment – may be out of reach for many poorer women and their families.

To be clear, I’m not trying to poo-poo the potential success for Zulresso. I am trying to make a broader point though: Many areas of mental health treatment are, sadly, out of reach for the poorest among us. Hopefully, medical advances will continue to improve and make Zulresso’s life-saving benefits available for all women and families in society, regardless of their economic station in life.