Financial crises have always produced a rise in the number of people who decide to take their own lives. In the current crisis, however, the increase has been even more dramatic. Tragic stories are being played out on an almost daily basis.
“Because my advanced age does not allow me to react differently (although if a fellow Greek picked up a Kalashnikov, I’d support him), I see no other solution than to end my life in this dignified way, so I don’t end up rummaging through bins to survive”.
This quote, which could have been taken from a film script, is an extract from the letter that Greek pensioner Dimitris Christoulas wrote before committing suicide in early April. The 77-year-old shot himself in front of parliament, having become overwhelmed by the financial problems he was experiencing.
Christoulas, who was ill with cancer, had a wife and daughter. He had sold the pharmacy he ran in 1994 and, according to his letter, lived on a pension that he had paid himself without any help from the state.
It might seem an isolated incident. You need only look at recent suicide rates in Greece, however, to see that this is not the case. Suicides have shot up in the last three years and experts believe that it is the result of the severe economic crisis the country is going through.
Between 2000 and 2008 there were an average of 366 suicides per year, one of the lowest rates in Europe according to figures from the Hellenic Statistical Authority.
In 2009, 2010 and 2011 the number of suicides increased significantly, reaching 507, 622, and 598 (as of 10th December 2011) respectively, according to a report by Greek police.
Greece, which before the financial crisis had the lowest suicide rate in Europe (2.8 per 100,000 inhabitants), now leads the EU in number of suicides.
Even so, it is not the only place where suicides are on the rise as a result of the current economic crisis. Practically the entire continent is in the same boat.
A report published by the magazine The Lancet revealed an increase in the number of suicides as of summer 2008. The investigative team which produced this report, led by David Stuckler from the University of Cambridge, looked at variations in suicide rates among the under 65s in ten countries: Austria, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Holland, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania and Romania.
Up until 2007 the suicide rate was falling. This trend only started to be reversed in 2008, which saw an increase of 1% in the countries which joined the EU in 2004 – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta y Cyprus – and nearly 7% among older EU nations.
The problem became more serious in 2009, when a rise of at least 5% was recorded in each country except Austria, where rates dropped from 2007 to 2009.
The UK went from a suicide rate of 6.14 per 100,000 people to 6.75 in 2008, an increase of 10%, although rates remained stable from 2008 to 2009.
xIn Ireland, however, another country seriously affected by the crisis, the rise in the number of suicides was even more significant: 13%.
In Spain, once again according to Stuckler’s study, suicide rates went up by 8%.
As for Italy, the outlook is not much brighter. The northern Italian city of Mestre’s Association of Small and Medium-Sized Business Owners indicated that between the start of the year and the month of May, 32 small business owners committed suicide because of problems linked to the economic crisis and worsening financial situation.
As a result, few weeks have gone by without the Italian newspapers revealing a new suicide connected to the crisis, with a constant drip of desperate business owners and old age pensioners deciding to end their lives.
The most recent data available on Italy as a whole are from 2009 and put the total number of suicides at 2,986.
Many of these suicides, including the one mentioned at the start of this article, are particularly tragic. The personal stories and motives that drive these people to take such a decision are, at times, shocking.
Take, for example, the case of an elderly Italian couple. Salvatore De Salvo, 64, a commercial agent who had been unemployed for seven years and his wife, Antonia Azzolini, who had just lost the house she had lived in since 1966 and was about to be sent to a home located some distance from her husband, both committed suicide at the beginning of the year.
They had written several letters to newspapers and sent messages to politicians explaining their predicament. They had even recorded videos that have since become a hit on Youtube. All to no avail.
Getting nowhere, they decided to take a large quantity of barbiturates. Antonia died not long after and Salvatore, who had survived the drugs, decided to walk into the sea to die. A fisherman found his body.
Another case, once again in Greece, took place last May. A mother suffering from Alzheimer’s and her son jumped – grasping each other’s hands, according to witnesses – from the roof of a five-story building in Athens.
According to their neighbours, mother and son had been in financial difficulty.
In an internet forum, the son had admitted that his problem had been not realising that he would have to have money ready when the crisis arrived so suddenly.
A final example which took place in Spain in April concerns a 45-year-old man on unemployment benefits. He was unable to find a job because, they told him, he was now too old to work. His wife accepts that he took the easiest way out:,by making way for others.
As can be seen, the economic crisis has an effect on all areas of life. And while in previous depressions suicides also went up, this time the figures are beginning to look alarming.
This is why we should try to anticipate this type of event and help people who, due to their financial situation, could be at risk of committing suicide.
(Translated by Fiona Marshall – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)