Hidden Cost of Greece, Euro Crisis: Suicides

The Wall Street Journal has a sobering but much needed piece on the recession-induced rise in suicides in Greece and the rest of the Eurozone.

The media typically presents the consequences of job and income loss in anodyne, depersonalized terms: unemployment, foreclosure, default, delinquency, bankruptcy. Yet the event fray personal relationships and batter one’s identity and sense of self worth. Sure, there might be a vignette depicting how an individual is affected by a particular type of bad event, but then the story (at least if it’s on the business pages) shifts to the statistics and quotes from various experts. And many people don’t witness this sort of stress first hand, since most victims are deeply ashamed and suffer in silence until their situation becomes untenable.

Key sections of the Journal account:

Two years into Greece’s debt crisis, its citizens are reeling from austerity measures imposed to prevent a government debt default that could cause havoc throughout Europe. The economic pain is the price Greece and Europe are paying to defend the euro, the center…

The most dramatic sign of Greece’s pain, however, is a surge in suicides.

Recorded suicides have roughly doubled since before the crisis to about six per 100,000 residents annually….About 40% more Greeks killed themselves in the first five months of this year than in the same period last year…

Suicide has also risen in much of the rest of Europe since the financial crisis began, according to a recent study published in the British medical journal The Lancet, which said Greece is among the hardest hit…

A suicide help line at Klimaka, the charitable group, used to get four to 10 calls a day, but “now there are days when we have up to 100,” says a psychologist there, Aris Violatzis.

The caller often fits a certain profile: male, age 35 to 60 and financially ruined. “He has also lost his core identity as a husband and provider, and he cannot be a man any more according to our cultural standards,” Mr. Violatzis says…

Victims once were typically adolescent males or old people facing severe illness, and in normal times suicide cases often involve a mixture of factors including mental illness, says local [Heraklion, Crete] psychiatrist Eva Maria Tsapaki.

But the economic crash has created a “new phenomenon of entrepreneurs with no prior history of mental illness who are found dead every other week,” she says. “It’s very unusual.”..

“Our pride is as high as Psiloritis,” the island’s tallest mountain, says Yiannis Tsevabinas, a local lawyer. The culture breeds confident, extroverted and adventurous characters, he says, “but when pride is lost, it can also make you vulnerable.”

The story is anchored the sad account of how a man who operated a fruit and vegetable business, Vaggelis Petrakis, came to take his life. And although there are only 20 comments up so far at the Journal, it appears the story itself and perhaps the long grind of the post crisis downturn is leading to a more balanced discussion that I usually see there. Stories about Bad Shit Happening to Little People usually elicit a fair amount of moralizing and/or attributing the victim’s sorry fate to government interference. The shift in the mix of comments may be a sign that Americans are beginning to realize that only a very thin slice at the very top can shield themselves from the vagaries of the economy.

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  1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Two notes.

    First, in a frictionless world, where there is no heat loss, the end result is path independent. That’s Physics 101. But that’s not the case not in the real world. The result when the GDP goes up 10% a year and down 8% the next is way different than when the GDP goes up 1% two years in a row. People develop all sorts of unhealthy habits and attitudes in the first instance during the boom year. This seems to teach us that it’s bad enough that it happens natureally; the Fed and the government should avoid stimulating the economy when they don’t know what they are doing. It’s like the car first skids to the right and then skids to the left…completely out of control.

    Secondly, the result when the GDP contracts 1% per year for 5 years is a lot worse than GDP first plunges 10% one year and recovers 5% the next, I would think. Total pain felt by a human is the amount of the pain at any particular moment integrated over its duration, not just the highest amount of pain, unless it’s lethal, at a particular felt. In that case, we may ask ourselves, for example, if 20 million unemployed for one year with recvoery right after is not better than 12 millions plus unemployed for 5 straight years.

    Some might say that the situation we find ourselves are in is due to some genius who decided he couldn’t take the short sharp pain in 2002.

  2. Scott Free

    It’s been pretty well proven (no links, sorry) that economic downturns lead to a host of social ills. These include divorce, drug use, family violence, as well as suicide. I think that we loose sight of how bad a down economy really is in terms of peoples’ lives.

  3. Linus Huber

    We may have to relearn the beauty of simple things, like gardening or having a walk on a beautiful evening after a short rain etc.

    1. mk

      agreed. I’m reading The Nature of Paleolithic Art by R. Dale Guthrie, about cave paintings and his theories of who painted them and what they tell us about their lifestyle. Reminds us that humans haven’t changed much over thousands of years… we can organize ourselves into better, more satisfying ways of living and leave these death economies behind. Turn off our TVs/computers and learn to use our brains and wonderful hands… and learn to be artists, cooks, good friends… I have found most interesting the paleo lifestyle movement, people who are changing their diets to high fat low carb and watching the pounds melt away, diabetes and other diseases disappear… there is a lot to live for, much to enjoy about being human that has nothing to do with money and the accumulation of wealth…

    2. Carla Robertson

      We may have to relearn the beauty of simple things- Like the glow in smiling face of the man I loved, who is not here with me today.

      The simple task of finding the mate, for his long lost shoe for the 100th time.

      Picking up the towel left on the bathroom floor.Sharing morning coffee.

      Giving him a soft place to fall-as he weeps, in my arms about his worthlessness.

      Listening to him describe the man he used to be-the one who through shear will and amazing charisma, was never without a job. So confident in himself, inspiring confidence in others…this “other man.”

      Then, one night, after being told for the last time how much I was loved,and that tomorrow WOULD hold promise, he decided to follow a different path.

      He awoke in the middle of the night and shot himself in the head.

      We were together 8 years. I met him 4 years after losing my husband of 25. He was 49 years old.

      He just couldn’t take anymore.

      I once saw beauty in all that is simple- now I struggle to find beauty in anything.

      This too shall pass…or so I am told.

  4. /L

    So European elite politicians is now in a literarily sense walking over corpses to persevere their beloved euro and European super state utopian project (and banksters). For a utopist who want to create their version of paradise no sacrifice is to big then the utopia is so beautiful.

    The Europeans responded [to Timmy Geithner “spendthrift” proposal] by claiming that there was “no room for tax cuts or extra spending” despite their economies now heading back into recession and the monetary system being on the brink of collapse. Of-course, just last week, they were only too willing to draw on the US Federal Reserve (without collateral) to renew the US dollar swap lines to the European banks. When their capitalist mates are in trouble anything is possible but when it comes to saving jobs for the low- or middle-income workers such action becomes impossible.
    Bill Mitchell – Greece should default and exit the euro immediately

  5. TimoT

    So now even the suicide is the fault of euro. Man, you Yanks are unbelievable hypocrites. I just hope New York City goes fucking under like Detroit and STAYS THERE! You SO FUCKING DESERVE IT!

    1. chris

      While seeing New York City (or at least its banking filth jumping from windows) fail would be equitable, your politicians chose to save bankers and screw over the people just like America’s politicians.

    1. rotter

      As i mentioned yesterday to another Libertarian, you really need to wait and see whos neck the rope is going around before you LOL

  6. Capo Regime

    Its come to the U.S and will get worse. Too many schadenfreud stories focusing on the eurpeans/greeks. Things on the mental health, violence, child abuse, domestic violence in the US. are much worse and this coupled with budget cuts–plus an MSM not inclined to do much other that a 22 second blurb at 3:00 a.m. on these issues in the U.S. It is really bad out there.

    1. Psychoanalystus

      Yeah, the US is scary. But I still think Europe will experience another world war soon. The skirmishes already stated.

  7. ScottS

    I’m hoping the Olympics provide an outlet for nationalist pissing contests a la the Cold War. But it’s not likely to help as the grievances are real and not likely to be sublimated.

    1. rotter

      yeah i think your right, thats not likely to help. hardly anyone pays attention to the Olympics anymore since the end of the Cold War

  8. Susan the other

    It is doubly sad when we are reminded on a daily basis that the underlying economics is just a kluge of irrational ad hoc measures signifying nothing. The Europeans do not want to carpetbag Greece. They want Greece to declare bankruptcy, clean its slate and start over. But Greece is being held hostage by a determined US Fed and banking system. Determined to monkey wrench any solution that does not protect our banks from all their bad bets. And it seems that even our banks are being held hostage by the European banks. Circus circus. We should just step in and pay all the Greek debt off. Its a drop in the bucket compared to the amount that will accrue by playing this stubborn game or to the amounts of our own ongoing bail out over here.

  9. /L

    It is closing up to the 100 year celebration of the European madness called WW I, as now the countries of Europe was lead by utterly fools and ignoramuses. The French military still strutted around in rich colored uniforms suited for a time when rifles lacked precision and had a very limited reach, when you could stand on some distance but still see the enemy clearly but he couldn’t reach you with his gun. The Russians tsar was an imbecile and the British lead by foolish aristocrats.

    The idiots started one of history’s big bloodletting. And it didn’t really got resolved until 1945 and America took the lead and made the former colonial world powers vassals of the new empire.

    But they had a common currency, the gold standard, and trade was flourishing and the common view was that the world was so interconnected with common currency and trade that war would be such a stupidity that it was in practice impossible.

    With more than two year to go there is plenty of time for European politicians to make a splendid revival of the event. Almost everything is in place, utterly stupid politicians is for sure and so on.

  10. Philip Martin

    To all those people who think Europe may be heading towards war…GROW UP!!! If you think people are itching to throw their lives away to fight any other country in Europe you need your head examining. Maybe the Balkans will kick off in Kosovo but there is NO chance of a war between anyone in the Eurozone area. Now a revolution is another matter…

  11. XRayD

    NO, no. The “hidden cost” is NOT the suicides! They are very visible, but the media are in cahoots with financial institutions and will not humanize the tragedies caused by the bankers’ shenanigans! This piece is well done, but it needs to me multiplied by a million … and show what the so-called “financial crisis” (i.e. the schme invented by bankers to loot tax payers) has done to the lives of people who have NOT commited suicide, but soldier on because they are human, have courage, and trust themselves.

    The real cost here and what what IS “HIDING” is on the balance sheets of the banks, “investment authorities” and quasi-state, fake “investment” holding vehicles, many of which are still to come. All fabricated with words and paper.

    We need not hold our breaths for a central banker or a politician to commit suicide! They have their futures lined up to retire in luxury and ease.

    This is clear from the excellent translation of the BIS paper posted today.

  12. David

    A few days ago I noticed a recently published book by James Gilligan:

    Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others
    {Amazon.com link)

    which, according to the description, discusses the same kind of social consequences being discussed in the article and comments here.

    I think Yves and this blog’s readers will be interested in his work.

    Yves, how about getting this guy to submit some essays to this blog?

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