FaithWorld

FInancial crisis boosts European suicide rates, especially in Greece, Ireland

July 8, 2011

(Suicide hotline sign at telephone booth near Beachy Head, the chalk cliffs near Eastbourne, a leading UK suicide spot, 29 January 2009/Les Chatfield)

Suicides rates rose sharply in Europe in 2007 to 2009 as the financial crisis drove unemployment up and squeezed incomes, with the worst hit countries like Greece and Ireland seeing the most dramatic increases, researchers said on Friday. Rates of road deaths in the region fell during the same period, possibly because higher numbers of jobless people led to lower car use, according to an initial analysis of data from 10 European Union (EU) countries.

“Even though we’re starting to see signs of a financial recovery, what we’re now also seeing is a human crisis. There’s likely to be a long tail of human suffering following the downturn,” said David Stuckler, a sociologist at Britain’s Cambridge University, who worked on the analysis.

Stuckler said he feared the social and health costs of the recent global economic downturn would turn out to be high. “We can already see that the countries facing the most severe financial reversals of fortune, such as Greece and Ireland, had greater rises in suicides,” he said. “And suicides are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of mental health problems. Suicide itself is a relatively rare event, but wherever you see a rise in suicides there is also a rise in failed suicide attempts and in new cases of depression.”

Analyzing data available so far, Stuckler and colleagues found that suicide rates were up 17 percent in Greece and 13 percent in Ireland. Unemployment increased by 2.6 percentage points — a 35 percent relative increase — between 2007 and 2009 across the EU as a whole, they said.

“The steady downward trend in suicide rates, seen…before 2007, reversed at once,” the researchers wrote.

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