Greece's harsh austerity program may have caused coalitions to crumble and brought people out on the streets in protest, but a new study has found a more human cost of the debt crisis – cuts and reforms in the country have caused a "dramatic rise" in male suicides.
Research conducted at the University of Portsmouth found that for every one percent drop in in Greek government spending, there was a 0.43 percent rise in male suicides.
The study, by Dr Nikolaos Antonakakis and Professor Alan Collins and published in the Social Science and Medicine journal, argued that there was a direct link between the suicides of 551 Greek men between 2009 and 2010 and the country's austerity cuts and reforms.
Greece received its first bailout of 110 billion euros in 2010 when it could no longer afford to pay down its debts. For the Greek government to receive the payouts and assistance from its fellow euro countries, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, it had to agree to tough spending cuts and reform programs. These measures put the brakes on the Greek economy, causing a deep recession and high unemployment.
Both Antonakakis and Collins called for governments and agencies to find ways to address the link between spending cuts and suicides, stating: "Euro zone leaders should put greater emphasis on stimulating debt-stricken economies to mitigate or even eliminate the negative effects of fiscal consolidation and austerity on suicides."
The study also found that there was no similar rise in female suicides during the austerity period and that men between 45 and 89 are most likely to commit suicide as they experience the most drastic cuts to salaries and pensions.
While links between high unemployment and suicide has been well documented – a U.K. study found that that the male suicide rate rose by 1.4 percent for every 10 percent increase in unemployment – this is the first time research into austerity's impact on those taking their own lives has been taken.
It is not the first time that studies have analyzed the link between harsh economic conditions and the health and well-being of the population.
A report by experts from Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published in The Lancet earlier this year claimed that Greece's austerity drive had worsened the health of the population.
The halving of public spending on pharmaceuticals had led to some medicine being unobtainable and that because health insurance was linked to work status – and Greece's unemployment rate stands are currently 27.3 percent according to Eurostat – around 800,000 people lacked access to health services.
Last year David Stuckler, a sociology professor at Oxford University, and physician-epidemiologist Sanjay Basu released a book entitled "The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills." The book argued that government cuts in healthcare systems as a response to recessions actually made matters worse for administrations and society.
The book compared Iceland and Greece's responses to recession, noting that Iceland's rejection of austerity lead to an improved economy and that no one lost health care coverage. "Recession hurts but austerity kills," Stuckler said, calling Greece "one of the worst cases in the middle of a public health disaster."
Stuckler's research found a 200 percent increase in HIV infections in Greece after HIV-prevention budgets were cut as part of a reduction in the Greek healthcare budget. Malaria too has returned to southern Greece, though it had previously been eradicated in the 1970s, Stuckler said.
Gabriel Scally, professor of public health and planning at the University of the West of England, said the new findings were unsurprising, citing that the long-term decline of suicides in Europe halted in 2008 and began to rise as the recession hit the continent.
He argued that increase in suicides in Greece was partly due to how austerity hits mental health services. "When it comes to taking money out of health services, very often mental health services will suffer the highest level of cuts," he said. "That's very true in the U.K. too. Despite the government's apparent commitment to preserve mental health service spending, we have seen very significant cuts to the services."