With all of the dry numbers of economics, it is often easy to forget that bad news — be it job numbers, the stock market, or credit crunches — means that someone out there is much worse off today than they were yesterday. Unfortunately, a startling story from Greece is reminding all of us about the human toll that economic downturns can take: suicide rates have been soaring in the Mediterranean country since the debt crisis began in 2009.
The Wall Street Journal Reports: “Recorded suicides have roughly doubled since before the crisis to about six per 100,000 residents annually, according to the Greek health ministry and a charitable organization called Klimaka… About 40% more Greeks killed themselves in the first five months of this year than in the same period last year, the health ministry says.”
Even though unemployment and suicide rates are correlated throughout Europe, Greece has been especially hard hit from the economic crisis. Beyond the 90% chance that the country will default on its debt, gross domestic product is expected to shrink by one fifth this year, further inflating the already catastrophically high 16% employment rate. In human terms, this means that millions of people are jobless — with little hope of finding a job soon or having temporary help from the austerity-minded government.
Because of these stark economic conditions, over 25% of all Greek suicides are now attributed to economic reasons. Suicide prevention hotlines are being swamped by more than ten times as many calls as they used to, predominantly with people who have lost everything in the crisis.
As the current American Congressional budget Super Committee seriously mulls a path of austerity for American government programs, they should consider what has happened in Greece since austerity measures have been implemented. When unemployment benefits or public jobs get cut, that means that hardworking families are going to have an even harder time scraping by. In Greece, those monetary losses unfortunately became all too tangible; hopefully American lawmakers will be compassionate in how they address American debt problems.
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