Europe is trembling. Confusion about the future of the Union and the common currency is a daily concern. So are the conditions of millions of unemployed people, of pensioners without benefits, as well as the reduction of budgets for education , health, unemployment assistance…
Two questions are heard everywhere in Europe: “Where are we going?” and “What is the solution?” There are no answers. And the middle class (which is becoming the lower class), is the one which is carrying these and other doubts on its shoulders.
The loss of jobs and the impossibility of finding new ones, debts, loss of homes, are things which have a direct effect on the health of a human being. Those who are more psychologically prepared can manage them, others can’t.
And this is the worst effect of the crisis: the way that the damage it causes leads to desperation among those who have lost everything, and decide to get themselves out of the situation.
Those images from 1929 remain etched on our retinas, the year when stockbrokers in New York took their own lives by jumping from the same skyscrapers, which were once the towers from which they controlled the world.
Today the pattern has changed, it’s no longer just top executives, but people who have lost their jobs, and homes, and with them their belief in themselves to keep struggling against the current.
It had an annual average of 366 suicides in 2008, 507 in 2009, 622 in 2010 and now 598 in 2011. But since the first quarter of 2010 the rate has increased by 40%.
It is difficult to make a direct connection between suicide figures and the crisis, because there are many factors which lead someone to take such a decision.
However, even if not everyone suffers from a mental illness like Schzophrenia or Depression, the latter can undoubtedly appear as a result of economic problems which lead the person to suffer insomnia, stress . . .
The best-known case in Greece is that of the 77 year-old retired pharmacist who decide to put and end to his life with a bullet. He did it a few metres from the Greek patliament. “I am retired. I can’t live in these conditions. I refuse to search for food in the rubbish bins. So I have decided to end my life”, he said in the note which he carried in his pocket. “I believe that the young people without any future will one day take up arms and in Syntagma Square (the place where he shot himself) they will hang those who have betrayed the nation, as the Italians did with Mussolini in 1945”.
Every day he takes phone calls from people who are potentially suicidal, and confirms that the number of calls has increased by 50% since the beginning of the crisis. “They call in a profound state of anxiety, with a lot of repressed anger”, he says.
He adds that the reasons for the calls have changed, and now the majority of depressions are for economic problems. “In many situations of stress it is possible to help people to see that there are other solutions, but with this interminable crisis, how can you tell someone who is not going to find a job, who has debts, and can’t feed their children, that there is light at the end of the tunnel?”, says the psychologist sadly.
This is another of the EU countries most affected by the crisis, where an increase of suicides related to the economic situation across the country has also been noted.
They have increased by 24% from 2008 when there were 150 plus 200 attempted, to 2010 with 187 and 245 failed attempts. However the figures for 2011 are alarming. It is estimated that one third of the 4,000 suicides which occurred last year were related to the economic crisis.
The Veneto, one of the most dynamic regions of the country with 80% of small companies most exposed to tax increases and credit restrictions, has witnessed 50 suicides of businessmen in just 3 years.
Spain and . . . evictions
One of the first cases brought to public attention was a man of 45 who was receiving unemployment benefit.
The case reached the media through the appearance of his wife in a radio programme, “My husband killed himself 20 days ago because of the economic problems we had. He was receiving unemployment benefit, and at the age of 45 they told him he was too old to work”.
His wife made a desperate appeal: “He decided to take the easest way out, and left me with my daughters and grandchildren. This appeal is because I know that there are a lot of people like me, I would like someone to do something to avoid it happening”.
Other cases, the only ones that the media have brought to light had as a common factor the evictions that the people were about to suffer. Three suicides in three weeks. And in Spain it is the case that 500 families are evicted every day for non-payment of rent or mortgages.
Ana Colau, the spokesperson for the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Programme for those affected by Mortgages), points out that, “people who go through an eviction process find themselves financially blacklisted; have their bank accounts and also their inheritances blocked; are refused hire-purchase agreements; and cannot rent a house, nor even get a telephone line. Because of all this people see themselves thrown into an economic underworld, deprived of social support networks. They are condemned for life, without a second chance”.
In the first quarter of 2012 the General Council of the Judiciary in Spain reported 46,559 evictions, and in total during the last 5 years the number of families who have lost their homes is approaching half a million.
During the 1930’s the Austrian psychologist Paul Hartzfeld published his investigation The Unemployed of Marienstrasse.
In this he reflected on the damage that unemployment caused to the identity of the person affected. Its characteristics were invariable: long term unemployment provoked self-loathing, distancing from (and often on the part of) others, loss of status within the family, loss of confidence and weakening of the ability to compete socially, and a growing resignation in the face of worsening living conditions.
The outstanding feeling is helplessness, of being socially useless, which invades the self of the person humiliated. The worst thing is waking up every day with nothing to do; to live through another day of social failure, not seeing the end of the tunnel or the end of anything. The worst indignity is to ask for help, to receive unemployment benefit, when a person wants to work. For them, suffocated by debts, out of work, without a place to live , many other factors are added which end by undermining the mental health of the person.
What matters most is that the cuts should not be applied in the area of mental health at this time, because this is when people must be offered more help than ever.
Without any doubt there is a shortage of humanity, and money has to stop becoming the means to guarantee life.
(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email: email@example.com)