Austerity to blame for 35% suicide surge in Greece – research

Reuters/Marko Djurica
The harsh austerity measures imposed on Greece by its EU creditors led to the major spike in suicides in the country during the peak of its crisis in 2011 and 2012, a survey by the UK’s leading medical magazine said.

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“The introduction of austerity measures [in Greece] in June 2011 marked the start of a significant, sharp, and sustained increase in suicides, to reach a peak in 2012,” the report by BMJ Open said.

The scientists, who analyzed data gathered by the Hellenic Statistical Authority from over the past 30 years, said that a total of 11,505 Greeks took their own lives – 9,079 men and 2,426 women – from 1983 to 2012.

The number of total suicides rose by over 35 per cent in June 2011 when the austerity measures were introduced, leading to violent protests and strikes, the research said. The number of people taking their lives was rising until the end of the year and continued into 2012, it added.

On average, an extra 11.2 suicides occurred every month in Greece, which is described in the paper as a country which historically had “one of the lowest suicide rates in the world.”

“The maximum number of monthly reported suicides that occurred over the 30-year study period was 64 in July 2012, followed by 62 in May 2012,” the report said.

There was another spike in April 2012, after a retired pharmacist, Dimitris Christoulas, shot himself outside the Greek Parliament. The intense media coverage of an act undertaken by a desperate man, who blamed governmental austerity policies for the decision to take own life, might have provoked the so-called ‘suicide contagion’, the survey said.

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The study revealed that men, who remain Greece’s top earners, were more heavily affected by austerity than women; suicide rates among males began rising in 2008 when the recession began. It increased by over 13 per cent in 2010 and rose by an extra 18.5 per cent (5.2 suicides) every month, starting from June 2011.

“The sense of hopelessness,”
which led to an overall spike in suicides was likely provoked by “high unemployment, household debt, comprehensive welfare and benefit cuts, and increasing homelessness prompted by the unrelenting and sizable economic downturn in Greece” that “piled on the stress,” according to the report.

On the contrary, the study said that there was a decrease in suicides among men during “prosperity-related events.” The number of men taking their own lives in Greece dropped 27 per cent in 2002 when the country adopted the euro.

“The consideration of future austerity measures should give greater weight to the unintended mental health consequences that may follow and the public messaging of these policies and related events,” the BNJ Open’s research team concluded.

In late January, Greece elected Europe’s first anti-austerity government as the radical leftist Syriza party won the country’s legislative election, claiming 149 seats in the 300 seat parliament. The party, led by Alexis Tsipras, rose to popularity after it promised to renegotiate Greek debt and put an end to strict economic measures in the country.

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