Roberto La Rosa, right, filled out a temporary job application in November 2008. There was a clear rise in suicide after the 2008 global economic crisis, researchers say. (Alan Diaz/Associated Press)

Suicide rates in Europe and North America increased after the 2008 global economic crisis, especially among men and in countries with greater increases in unemployment, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Hong Kong and the UK used data from 54 countries to look at changes in suicide rates after 2008, when turmoil in the banking sector led to downturns in stock markets, bankruptcies, and job losses.

"We found a clear rise in suicide after the 2008 global economic crisis, there were about 4,900 excess suicides in the year 2009 alone compared with those expected based on previous trends (2000-07)," David Gunnell of the University of Bristol and his co-authors concluded in Wednesday's issue of the British Medical Journal.

The largest increase in Europe was seen in 15-24 year old men and in 45-64 year old men in the U.S. In Canada, the researchers estimated there were 294 excess suicides among men. There was no change in suicide in European females and a small increase was seen in American females.

The researchers say that their findings likely underestimate the true global impact of the economic crisis on suicide since data were unavailable for countries such as China and India.

Because younger men were most at risk, the researchers suggested that countries with limited resources could target their labour market support at this group. But in many countries, government austerity measures are contributing to further job losses, they said.

"Urgent action is needed to prevent the economic crisis leading to further increases in suicides."

The mortality database sources included the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.