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More Greeks Killing Themselves: Europe’s Fastest Increase

Police sprayed a man who set himself afire in Thessaloniki, Greece, in September. The former small-business owner, who said he was ruined after taking on a series of bank loans, survived.

ATHENS –  Four years of recession and more than 18 months of pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and coming layoffs by the thousands are taking their toll in a deadly way as the rate of increase in suicides in Greece is the highest in Europe, according to a report released at a seminar at the Athens Economic University. The group Get Involved revealed the numbers at a conference on the prevention of suicide, and said the suicide rate in Greece has increased by 40 percent in the first five months of 2011, coinciding with the start of the economic crisis, although they said financial reasons are not the only cause, noting that there are other factors, including a history of depression or problems in family relations.
According to the suicide phone line 1018, financial reasons were the most common cause for suicide given to psychologists since 2007, when the center began operating, at a time when the crisis had not begun in Greece. Since that time, the number of calls to the phone line quadrupled, hitting 2,500 and the number of calls linked to financial difficulties is constantly increasing, officials said.
Based on a recent study published by the British medical journal The Lancet, suicides in Greece increased 17 percent in the period 2007-2009. After Attica, most calls to the suicide line were from the island of Crete, where more than 20 people had taken their own lives in the last 18 months. The study was based on facts provided by the International Health Organisation and Eurostat. According to official data cited by the Guardian newspaper in London, 5,000 suicides in Greece were reported in the first eight months this year, compared with 2,500 for all of last year.
A suicide help line at Klimaka, the charitable group, used to get four to 10 calls a day, but “now there are days when we have up to 100,” a psychologist there, Aris Violatzis, told the Wall Street Journal in September. He said the caller often fits a certain profile: male, age 35 to 60 and financially ruined. “He has also lost his core identity as a husband and provider, and he cannot be a man any more according to our cultural standards,” Violatzis said.
In September, the Greek health ministry said suicides in the first five months of 2011 may have risen by 40% compared to the same period of 2010. The suicide incidences doubled in 2010 compared with 2009. The national suicide helpline reports four times more incoming phone calls in 2010 than previous years. The upward trend had started before 2010. Alain Salles reported in French paper Le Monde on June 24 that in 2009, there was an 18% increase in the number of suicides compared with 2007. The same article quoted psychiatrists as saying that “the economic crisis has triggered a 25 to 30% increase in the number of patients seeking their help.”
While there is no way of knowing for sure why many people take their lives, the rate of increase comes at a time when many Greeks are squeezed for survival as the austerity measures demanded by international lenders have created a deep recession of 17.5 percent unemployment – more than 45 percent for those under 24, and there are 500,000 Greeks without any income at all, as many have had their unemployment benefits exhausted. Pensioners, among the most vulnerable, are expected to see their benefits cut 15 percent starting next month, and more than 100,000 businesses have closed.
From 2007 – 2009, the number of people eligible for sickness benefits declined. As further austerity measures are implemented, this number is likely to grow. More and more Greeks are turning to street clinics run by NGOs which had previously principally served immigrants. While 3-4 % of Greeks sought medical care from such clinics prior to the financial crisis, the Greek chapter of Médecins du Monde says that 30% now are asking for help.
(Sources: Athens News, Reuters, China Daily)

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