British medical journal links spike in Greek suicides to austerity

A leading British medical journal has linked austerity imposed by Greece’s international creditors to a large spike in suicides in 2011 and 2012, noting that 35 percent more Greeks took their own lives at the peak of the crisis.

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

Between 1983 and 2012, 11,505 people took their own lives — 9,079 men and 2,426 women — researchers studying suicide trends over a 30-year period based on data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority found.

The number of total suicides rose by over 35 percent in June 2011, a rate that continued over the rest of the year and into 2012, equivalent to an extra 11.2 suicides every month, on average, the report, published Monday, found.

“No other prosperity or austerity events over the 30-year period were associated with such a strong shift in the total number of suicides recorded,” the report said.

“High unemployment, household debt, comprehensive welfare and benefit cuts, and increasing homelessness prompted by the unrelenting and sizable economic downturn in Greece are likely to have piled on the stress and created a sense of hopelessness,” it added.

Men, who continue to be the main wage-earners in Greek households, were more affected by austerity, researchers found, saying that from 2008, when the Greek recession began, suicides among males increased by over 13 percent through 2010 and rose by an additional 5.2 suicides every month (18.5 percent) from June 2011 onward.

“Further analyses, which included adjustments for potential undercounting of suicide (for religious and other reasons), showed the same sustained increased in June 2011,” the authors noted. “This further reinforces the importance of the events during this month.”

The summer of 2011 was marked by widespread public opposition to austerity measures, with several violent protests and strikes making international headlines.

“Despite historically having one of the lowest suicide rates in the world, Greece is thought to have been more affected by the global financial downturn than any other European country,” said the researchers.

“As future austerity measures are considered, greater weight should be given to unintended health consequences of these measures,” they warned. “Greater attention should also be paid to the public reporting of austerity measures and any subsequent suicide-related events that may follow.”

The researchers tracked the number of suicides recorded in Greece every month between January 1983 and December 2012 to assess the impact of prosperity and austerity on the figures, using national death certification data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority.

Data for later years were not available at the time of study.