Suicides in Greece surged by 35.7 percent compared to preceding months after the country implemented an austerity program in June 2011, according to health investigators. This increase was sustained for the rest of 2011 and reached an all-time peak in 2012.
Researchers in the US and Greece looked at data provided by the Hellenic Statistical Authority for self-inflicted deaths over a 30-year span, from January 1, 1983 to December 2012. During these 30 years, 11,505 people were considered to have taken their own lives, 9,079 men and 2,426 women. The suicide graph was then matched against 12 big economic events over the three decades.
It was seen that the monthly suicides fell when the news was good, for instance, when the euro was launched in Greece in January 2002, a sharp but short-lived fall of 27.1 percent occurred among men. The monthly tally began to go up in October 2008 at the time of the financial crisis, rising by 13 percent among men. It then went up further in 2011 when the government pushed through the austerity package to secure an international bailout for Greece's economy.
Lead author Charles Branas, said, "The findings threw up two key conclusions. One was about the impact of austerity on mental health and the need to help vulnerable people in the eye of an economic storm. But another was about communication. There was a 30-percent surge, albeit a temporary one, in male suicides in April and May 2012 after a pensioner killed himself in Athens' main square in response to the austerity. The event was massively and sometimes emotionally covered by the media. We found that perhaps it is the economic policies themselves, but also the public messaging of these policies (by the government and the press) that are both driving the changes in suicide. An important task is to think about different, less ominous messaging when austerity policies are enacted and perhaps even to consider less drastic policies that achieve similar goals."
The study is published online in BMJ Open.