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February 15, 2014
February 15, 2014

Greece: On the rise of suicides, interview with Stelios Stylianidis

Translator: Eleni Nicolaou
Source: TVXS  Categories: Dialogues, On the crisis
This article is also available in: elesfrit
Greece: On the rise of suicides, interview with Stelios Stylianidis

Below, you can find excerpts from the interview with Stelios Stylianidis, Professor of Social Psychiatry, and data on suicides related to economic hardship in Greece, but also information from other countries of southern Europe that have been affected by the financial crisis.

For the entire interview in Greek visit TVXS

Is it a myth or the truth that suicides have dramatically increased in our country after the crisis?

The way the psychiatric epidemiology approaches scientifically the issue of suicides differs from the quantitative depiction in the media. Recent surveys in Greece (Giotakos et al., 2011, Economou et al., 2011, Madianos et al., 2011, Stuckler et al., 2009) show that there is a strong connection between unemployment and the increased homicide and suicidal behaviour. In absolute numbers, according to the Greek Statistical Services, it is documented that from 2007 to 2009, a period during which the crisis began, there was a 19% increase in suicides.

In comparison to the European average and according to 2011 data, the suicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants, is, for Greece, 4.4, while for Spain, in 2012, 7.6 and for Portugal 8.5. In Spain, particularly, an increase of 11% from 2011 to 2012 is noted.

4 additional observations complement the answer to your question:

a) We have an impressive 36% growth of suicide attempts from 2009 to 2011 and a statistically significant relationship between economic hardship (poverty, unemployment, inability to find financial resources for survival) and suicidality in overall population.

b) In our country, due to religious beliefs and the culture of orthodox Christianity (as well as the ‘indirect’ suicides caused in the context of road accidents), there is a strong bias against families declaring suicide as the cause of a sudden death of one of their members (for reasons of being able to hold a religious ceremony).

c) Requests for psychological help that the telephone help lines receive for depression and suicides have increased in recent years by an average of 27% (UMHRI,2010).

d) Furthermore, according to Stuckler (2009), at European level, 1% increase in unemployment is associated with a 0.79% rise in suicides, at ages less than 65 years and every 3% increase in unemployment is associated with a 4.45% increase of suicides.

Does this concern the whole of the European South and the crisis stricken countries?

The increase of suicides includes the countries of southern Europe: Spain and Portugal register an 8-11% increase from 2011 to the end of 2012, while, unfortunately, there are currently no reliable sources for Italy at national level, only regionally, e.g. in Lombardy, indicating an upward trend both in suicides and suicide attempts. But we can support, in a documented way, that in all the countries of the south there is an increase of severe depression, which is associated with unemployment, poverty and economic hardship.

In Greece, for example, it is defined from 3.3% in 2008 to 8.2% in 2011. We estimate, subject to the implementation of the next epidemiological research at national level, that the current rate of major depressive disorder in the general population could well exceed 12%, in relation to the epidemiological tendency identified in previous surveys.

In conclusion, severe mental disorders, particularly depression, are a major public health issue, at a time when budgets for strengthening public health services and welfare state are dramatically reduced in all countries of the south. The data concerning children and adolescents are another major issue of public health and preventive interventions: it is worth mentioning that adolescent suicide attempts have increased by 20% over the last 4 years (Anagnostopoulos & Soumaki, 2013), cases of early school education drop-outs have increased by 25%, cases of school bullying by 22% and serious family conflicts related to family crisis affecting children have increased by 51%.

What is the profile of someone collapsing under the weight of problems or deadlocks?

The factors that reduce the resilience of individuals depend primarily on the existing structure of one’s personality and they are, therefore, individualised. However, the risk factors determining vulnerability and reducing the resistance of someone’s profile, amid the economic and social crisis, are the experience of humiliation, shame, defeat or the lack of any perspective or hope that things can change in the foreseeable future (Kendler et al., 2003).

In addition, through empirical observations, in the context of a qualitative research conducted in the centre of Athens (Stylianidis et al., 2011), the economic downturn and the lack of hope, the social disconnection and the loosening of social ties may transform a normal process of mourning into clinical depression. Anger and rage for the individuals’ dramatic economic and social status change may be converted either into blind rage, coated with anti-systemic rhetoric (see the example of Golden Dawn and Nazi ideology strengthening), or into a self-destructive impulse, self-incrimination and passiveness towards everything that is going around.

Do age and gender play any role?

There is almost a threefold increase in suicides among men than among women, while recent epidemiological studies show the beginning of a depression rate assimilation between men and women, which until recently was 1 to 3. It is obvious that the productive ages (18-65) are the most affected by unemployment and economic hardship.

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