Researchers have identified significant increases in suicides following financial crisis events and austerity announcements in Greece.
After one austerity-related announcement in 2011, when the government announced steep spending cuts, suicides surged by 35%, an increase which was then sustained through to the end of the study in 2012.
This is the first multi-decade (from 1983 to 2012) national analysis using monthly data to link the most up-to-date suicide information to specific austerity and prosperity-related events.
“Suicides closely followed the announcements of specific government economic programs in Greece, and grew to their highest levels in 2012 as economic austerity measures and public outcries accumulated in number and scale,” said Charles C. Branas, a professor of Epidemiology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Tragically, the impact of austerity measures on suicides is more significant and lasting than prosperity-related events, such as the launch of the Euro in Greece, and appears to affect both men and women, though the trend is more pronounced in men.”
The researchers found that men in Greece experienced a significant, abrupt and sustained 13% increase in suicide beginning in October 2008, which marked the beginning of the recession, with a reduction in national gross domestic product and many violent protests.
A 36% increase was also observed in June 2011 when the Greek government again passed unpopular austerity measures. Those spending cuts were immediately followed by strikes which halted public services and closed Greek banks.
At roughly the same time in 2011, the researchers found a 36% abrupt and sustained increase in suicides among women, the same month organised protests against austerity measures were held.
This increase among women was larger, on a percentage basis, than for men in 2011. This counters previous research showing economic downturn results in larger increases in suicides among men, not women.
Greek men also demonstrated a large, but temporary, 30% increase in suicides in April 2012, following the suicide of a male pensioner in the main square of Athens in response to austerity conditions.
In contrast to the austerity-related events, the researchers found that men in Greece experienced an abrupt but temporary 27% decrease in suicide with the launch of the Euro currency in January 2002, when Greece was accepted into the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union.
This suggests that positive, well-publicised events can perhaps have a favorable effect on mental health.
“This new analysis brings to light the unintended mental health consequences of the public messaging of economic policies, as well as the sometimes sensational and unnecessarily explicit media coverage that can follow in the wake of these consequences,” Branas said.
The study is published in the medical journal BMJ Open.
Anyone experiencing depression can call Lifeline Australian on 13 11 14.
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