"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," a statement accompanying the study said.
After Greece crashed into a six-year recession in 2008, it struggled to handle its sovereign debt burden. The country's first round of austerity measures failed to help, and the government was forced to ask for an international bailout of some 240 billion euros ($275 billion), which came with strict conditions for further severe cutbacks and reforms. These had a crippling effect on Greece's already stricken economy, sending unemployment levels up to 1 in 4 people.
The increasing level of hardship sparked an increasing number of protests, riots and even a public suicide by a pensioner in the main square of Athens.
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Greeks, exhausted and angry with the cuts and reforms, have just elected a new left-wing anti-austerity coalition government, led by Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, who is touring Europe lobbying for a better deal on its debt repayments.
The University of Pennsylvania-led study also found that the suicide rate in men started rising in 2008, increasing by an extra 3.2 suicides a month. The rate then rose by an additional 5.2 suicides every month from June 2011 onward. Figures for the years after 2012 were not available, the statement added.
The researchers concluded by urging governments to consider the broader implications of harsh cuts: "The consideration of future austerity measures should give greater weight to the unintended mental health consequences that may follow and the public messaging of these policies and related events."