Brexit could cause the suicide rate to soar, warns a historian who has found political crises harm the mental health of the general public.
Dr Julie Gottlieb has identified a number of cases where the build up to the Second World War was linked to people taking their own lives.
And she fears the result of the EU Referendum may have a similar impact.
Dr Gottlieb, of the University of Sheffield, said: “Brexit has been the subject of immense critique, but what hasn’t been analysed so far is to what extent this political move is having on people’s health and well-being.
“As we move closer to Britain leaving the EU, I can’t help but be struck by some parallels between Brexit and the Munich Crisis in terms of the emotional impact that it is appearing to have on people.”
Her team found there was a string of suicides after the Munich Agreement of 1938 when Britain, France and Italy gave in to Hitler’s demands for the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia to be returned to Nazi Germany.
It inspired Neville Chamberlain’s notorious promise of “peace for our time” – with people in a state of suspense and high anxiety.
Dr Gottlieb explained: “In the days following the EU Referendum, the immediate responses were more emotional than rational.
“Expansive emotional vocabulary was being used by the media and people up and down the country – as shown when the Metro reported David Cameron wept after his resignation speech.
“His aides revealed how it was very emotional, everyone was crying – men and women, even the civil servants. And then David started crying.”
She cites many examples of suicides in the late 1930s triggered by fear of war.
To mark the 80th anniversary of the Munich Crisis, her team also plan to consider how Brexit and the financial migrant crisis affect mental health and well-being.
It will shed fresh light on suicide, a significant social issue as the single biggest killer of men in Britain under the age of 45.
A report by the Samaritans last year showed there were 6,639 suicides in the UK and the Republic of Ireland in 2015.
Dr Gottlieb and colleagues believe the social impact of the Munich Crisis, overlooked until now, has implications for today.
The worry over war from the air, being fitted for gas masks and facing mobilisation and evacuation made this a ‘People’s Crisis’ and not just a story of diplomatic intrigue.
It also caused and certainly exacerbated mental health conditions.
The months up to the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939 were a “war of nerves”, said Dr Gottlieb.
Depression and anxiety over the possibility of war was a factor in cases of suicide in Britain as well as in the rest of Western Europe.
Fear there might soon be another European war was the reason given at a Hammersmith, west London, inquest into the suicide of John James Macdonald.
The 42-year-old fitters’ engineer was found gassed at his home. He had served in the Navy in ‘’mystery’ ships during the Great War.
Novelist Mrs Marie Winch, 43, was found shot in her home in Maidstone, Kent.
Her husband, Lieutenant Colonel A.B Winch, said: “The September crisis has upset her and she was also obsessed by a fear her small daughter was going to be taken away from her.”
A railwayman’s suicide was “blamed on the European crisis”, while Harriet Edge, 63, was “depressed by the war and what might be coming” in the way of air raids.
Her husband, a sheet metal worker, told the Coroner “she has been under medical care for nervous debility.”
A Bournemouth doctor killed himself because he had “been depressed since the crisis” and “his mind had been unbalanced owing to the possibility of war.”
The researchers said they uncovered many more examples of suicide cases where the coroner’s verdict indicated they were provoked by the international situation. A recurrent method was gas poisoning – even by mask.
Dr Gottlieb added: “What has largely been forgotten about the Munich Crisis is it was also a people’s crisis.
“In Britain, the high pitch of emotions felt as a consequence of these world events led to 20,000 plus letters and telegrams sent to the Prime Minister – the Twitter feed of their day.
“Mass-Observation recorded the way the crisis was experienced by the man and woman on the street.
“The public hysteria displayed by the many who held Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain up as a ‘Man of Peace’ and a saviour was counterbalanced by a politics of regret and deep shame – often experienced as physical and mental illness – at the betrayal of the Czechs and collusion with the Nazi regime.”