Background The recent strain on the Greek public has prompted academic discussion of the potential health effects of the austerity measures. In this regard, suicides in Greece have been a lead topic, with numerous commentators concluding that the recent austerity measures have led to increased suicides in Greece. This conclusion has, however, been appropriately met with scepticism and no large-scale, systematic longitudinal analysis has been completed to inform the ongoing debate as to whether austerity measures have led to statistically higher suicide rates in Greece.
Methods National data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority were assembled as 360 monthly counts of: all suicides (n = 11505), male suicides (n = 9079), female suicides (n = 2426) and all suicides plus potentially misclassified suicides occurring in Greece from 1983 to 2012. Twelve austerity-related and prosperity-related events that occurred in Greece during the study period were identified and interrupted time-series analyses using ARIMA models and transfer functions were used to test the impact of each event on suicide.
Results In 30 years, the highest months of suicide in Greece occurred in 2012. New austerity measures in June 2011 marked the beginning of significant, abrupt and sustained increases in total suicides (+35.7%, p < 0.001) and male suicides (+18.5%, p < 0.01). Sensitivity analyses that figured in undercounting of suicides also found a significant, abrupt and sustained increase in June 2011 (+20.5%, p < 0.001). Suicides by men in Greece also underwent a significant, abrupt and sustained increase in October 2008 when the Greek recession began (+13.1%, p < 0.01), and an abrupt but temporary increase in April 2012 following a public suicide committed in response to austerity conditions (+29.7%, p < 0.05). Suicides by women in Greece also underwent an abrupt and sustained increase in May 2011 following austerity-related events (+35.8%, p < 0.05). One prosperity-related event, the January 2002 launch of the Euro in Greece, marked an abrupt but temporary decrease in male suicides (−27.1%, p < 0.05).
Conclusions This is the first multidecade, national analysis of suicide in Greece using monthly data. Select austerity-related events in Greece corresponded to statistically significant increases for suicides overall, as well as for suicides among men and women. The consideration of future austerity measures should give greater weight to the unintended mental health consequences that may follow and the public messaging of these policies and related events.
- economic austerity
- mental health
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