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Austerity Linked to 30-Year High in Greek Suicides: Study

"Greater weight should be given to unintended health consequences of these measures," researchers write.

A man in Athens in September, 2011.  (Photo:  Mehran Khalili/flickr/cc)

Austerity measures imposed on Greece in 2011 corresponded to a significant spike in suicides, health researchers have found.

For their study published Monday in the online journal BMJ Open, U.S., Scottish and Greek researchers used national data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority to look at suicide occurrences from 1983 through 2012.

During that 30-year time period, 11,505 suicides took place, and 2012 had the highest months of suicide.

The researchers found that June 2011, when a second round of austerity measures rolled out, "marked the beginning of significant, abrupt and sustained increases in total suicide." Total suicides rose by 36 percent, while male suicides rose by 19 percent.

"Suicides by women in Greece also underwent an abrupt and sustained increase in May 2011 following austerity-related events," spiking nearly 36 percent, the study also found, noting that this runs contrary to previous research that has not shown increases in female suicides as a result of economic downturns.

In addition, when the Greek recession began in October 2008, the number of suicides by men spiked 13.1%. Conversely, the study found that a time of economic prosperity in January 2002 when the euro launched corresponded to a 27 percent decrease in suicide.

"The sustained and statistically significant nature of the October 2008 and June 2011 increases for male suicides in Greece reveals the systemic and lasting effect that large government austerity programs can have on national economic stability and public health," the study states.

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

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