The New Depression: Waves of Suicide in the Age of Austerity
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The metaphor of suicide has been used to depict the downward spiral surrounding countries bludgeoned by the economic crisis—particularly U.S. and Eurozone communities plagued by epidemic joblessness and a rash of budget cuts. Now the term literally describes the psychological dimension of the crisis, according to studies on suicide rates.
Some symptoms of the social despair have been grimly spectacular. Greece was jolted one recent morning after aging pensioner Dimitris Christoulas put a pistol to his head in Athens’s main square. In 2010 Americans were shaken by the suicide-by-plane of Andrew Stack, whose anger at the political establishment propelled him into an Austin office complex. Poorer regions have flared with public self-immolations, particularly in the communities of the “Arab Spring” where many youth come to see life as a dead-end street. Underlying these more dramatic examples are statistical patterns that reflect society's unraveling.
A recently published Lancet study showed spikes in suicide across Europe during the recession. While many factors could contribute to this pattern, researchers found a significant correlation between unemployment and suicide trends.
The BBC summarized:
During the period, there was a rise in unemployment by a third.
Only Austria saw suicide rates fall. This was put down to the country being less exposed to the financial crisis than the others.
Of the risers, Finland fared best while Greece had the worst record. The UK saw a rise of 10% to 6.75 suicides per 100,000 people.
Dr David Stuckler, one of the researchers, said: "There was a complete turnaround. Suicides were falling before the recession, then started rising in nearly all European countries studied. Almost certainly these rises are linked to the financial crisis."
And he added it was also possible there would be other health consequences from the economic problems as the impact on heart disease and cancer rates was not likely to be seen for many years.
In a way, such studies confirm the obvious: as life gets harder, people beset by hopelessness begin to question whether it’s worth it. Still, the data underscores the senselessness of a crisis fueled by the gambling of financiers--high on irrational exuberance and a sense of corporate invincibility--with such grave potential consequences for ordinary people, far from Wall Street, who essentially played by the rules. The lethal impacts speak to the malaise rotting society’s political and economic organs. Suicide starts to seem a strangely rational measure of life’s cheapness in a monetized society--people’s logical response to a loss of control over their destinies.
Or, as Christoulas put it before ending his misery:
I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance. I believe that young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945.
Economic trauma has subtler long-term effects, too, according to the International Social Security Association:
A survey documented in the 2010 World of Work Report published by the International Institute for Labour Studies suggests that the crisis has induced an unprecedented global decline in life satisfaction. In concrete terms this has translated into greater pessimism about the quality of life, diminished confidence in the ability of governments to shape brighter and fairer futures, and greater social unrest among other things.