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Greek austerity sparks sharp rise in suicides

The harsh austerity measures imposed on the Greek public since the depths of country's financial crisis have led to a "significant, sharp, and sustained increase" in suicides, a study published in the British Medical Journal has found.

The cutbacks, launched in June 2011, saw the total number of suicides rise by over 35 percent—equivalent to an extra 11.2 suicides every month—and remained at that level into 2012, according to a study published this week by the University of Pennsylvania, Edinburgh University and Greek health authorities.

A 35-year-old woman is comforted after she was rescued at Athens' central Omonia square. She had climbed onto a metal sculpture and reportedly threatened to jump due to her economic situation.
Louisa Gouliamaki | AFP | Getty Images

"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."