Current figures from the Greek statistics agency ELSTAT show a dramatic rise in suicide rates since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008. They highlight the social decline which has taken place over recent years under the dictates of the European Union (EU).
Under conditions where workers struggles against EU austerity have been repeatedly sold out by the union bureaucracy and pseudo-left parties, increasing numbers of emotionally vulnerable and financially devastated individuals are taking their lives.
Between 2007 and 2011 the suicide rate rose by 43 percent. The year 2011 was marked by the highest suicide levels in 50 years, with 477 deaths. There are also a high number of unreported cases, and the real suicide rate is much greater than official figures. Suicide had previously been one of the rarest causes of death in Greece.
Within three years the suicide rate climbed from 2.8 to 5 people per 100,000. Although the majority of those committing suicide are still men, the number of women taking their own life doubled within one year.
According to Klimaka, a support organisation, the Attika region surrounding Athens has been worst affected. With 172 cases, it had not only the highest rate of deaths but also the most rapid rise in the suicide rate of 58 percent in a year.
Klimaka has been operating a suicide hotline for several years, which spoke to 1,800 people in the first half of 2013. A third of the calls came from unemployed people, followed by private sector employees (13 percent) and pensioners (10.6 percent). The main age groups were 21-25 and 51-55.
“We have concrete proof that the economic crisis has unfortunately hit the psychological health of the people in Greece hard,” explained psychologist and head of the suicide hotline Aris Violatzis in a BBC video report.
This was also the conclusion of a research project led by Marina Ekonomou, an associate at the University of Athens Mental Health Research Institute, and Professor of psychiatry at the University of Athens. In 2012, it investigated the influence of the crisis on mental health and concluded that the economic crisis had “a far-reaching impact on the mental health of the population.”
From 2008 to 2011, severe depression, which lasts at least one month, rose from 3.3 percent to 8.2 percent. Youth, married couples, people under financial strain, and those being medically treated in particular suffered from mental health problems. An article in Eleftherotypia, Ekonomou noted that cases of depression rose even more in 2013 to 12.3 percent.
Suicides are also rising. At the start of last week, two people took their own lives on Crete independently of each other. A 61-year-old man shot himself near Kania. In a note left behind for his family, he explained that he could no longer bear his financial problems. Only several hours earlier, a 27-year-old immigrant from Lithuania hung himself in Ammoudara near Iraklion.
Just three days earlier, a man’s life was saved at the last minute in Pyrgos on the Peloponnese. He had tried to poison himself with his sick brother’s tablets. “I only have 8 euros in my pocket. I will buy tablets from that and kill myself,” the 33-year-old had supposedly said to his family. He lost his job at the end of last year and soon after he could no longer afford the rent for his apartment.
He was threatened with eviction in the coming week. The man, who wanted to end his life, cannot expect a better future after his recovery. On the contrary, like many other unemployed and homeless people, he will have to bear the cost of his own treatment, since he has had no health insurance for several months.
Such catastrophic circumstances are hardly uncommon, however, and thousands of Greeks live without health insurance. An estimated 300,000 are without health insurance this year, three times more than 2012. Currently 38 percent of the working population are also without insurance. In June, unemployment reached a new record of 27.9 percent.
An increasing number of older people are taking their lives because of the lack of health insurance. They do not want to be a burden on their family with high treatment costs or expensive medication.
Moreover, there is a strong link across Europe between unemployment and increased rates of suicide. A 2011 article in the medical journal the Lancet established that the explosion of unemployment in EU member states in 2008 was accompanied by a rising trend of suicides. Where the recession was strongest, such as in Greece or Ireland, the study observed the sharpest rise in the number of suicides.