According to new research from the University of Portsmouth and Webster Vienna University, more males of all ages are committing suicide in the Eurozone’s poorest countries.
The researchers, Dr Nikolaos Antonakakis and Professor Alan Collins, are urging policy makers to put European citizens’ health before wealth as a matter of urgency.
The research is the first to examine the direct impact of fiscal austerity on suicide rates in the group of countries most affected by the Eurozone crisis – Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Dr Antonakakis, a Visiting Fellow at Portsmouth Business School and an Associate Professor at Webster Vienna University, said: “The Eurozone debt crisis is transforming into a health crisis. Austerity measures were implemented in response to the 2008 global financial crisis and the subsequent Eurozone debt crisis in an attempt to restore confidence, competitiveness and macroeconomic stability. However, the situation some countries are now faced with is bleak. Blank-cheque bailouts and austerity programmes have led to uncertain and fragile prospects for economic and health recovery in the long term.”
According to the research, every one per cent fall in growth rate of GDP in the Eurozone’s periphery countries has seen a 0.9 per cent increase in suicide rates across all ages, which equates to over 6000 suicides in total over the period 2011-12.
Between 2011 and 12 there have been:
- 580 male suicides between the ages 10-24, a 1.6 per cent increase
- 2995 male suicides between the ages 25-44, a 1.4 per cent increase
- 765 male suicides between the ages 45-64, a 0.4 per cent increase
- 1725 male suicides between the ages 65-89, a 1.3 per cent increase
The above figures relate to falls in the growth rate of GDP but when looking at spending cuts alone, the male population most heavily affected is aged between 65 and 89. This translates to 2325 males in this age bracket having committed suicide between the years 2011 and 2012 due to fiscal austerity.
Five years of belt tightening (e.g. pension and wages cuts) are predicted to have caused 4555 male suicides in the 65-89 age bracket between 2009 and 2014, suggesting medium- to long-lasting effects of fiscal austerity on suicides.
On the positive side, the researchers found that the negative effects of economic downturns and fiscal austerity could be mitigated by the adoption of re-distributive policies and by investing in some specific elements of stronger social protection in the Eurozone periphery.
“These results have profound health and economic policy implications and raise substantial questions on the prolonged application of fiscal austerity without any safety nets,” said Dr Antonakakis.
The results also show that unemployment is one of the main causes of youth suicides in the Eurozone periphery. Increases in unemployment have led to a significant increase in the overall suicide rates of those in the age band 10-24. A one per cent increase in a Eurozone periphery country’s unemployment rate leads to a 1.48 per cent increase in suicide rates in that age group. This equates to 175 youth suicides between 2011 and 2012 in the Eurozone periphery.
Dr Antonakakis said these figures are alarming. “Youth unemployment has deteriorated significantly in the Eurozone periphery, which has led to this drastic rise in suicide mortality.”
Women aged 25-44 have also committed suicide in higher numbers since austerity measures were first introduced, though not in such high numbers and while most men commit suicide as a reaction to unemployment, in women, suicide is more often as a result of divorce.
Dr Antonakakis argues that spending cuts, tax hikes, privatisation of publicly owned assets – with often largely overoptimistic initial sale values – and structural reforms have been draconian.
He said: “The austerity policies that many governments adopted made the recession far deeper and longer than necessary and they’ve left long-lasting consequences for wealth and health.”
Dr Antonakakis and Professor Collins have previously called for governments and agencies to find ways of stopping people being broken by harsh economic cuts when they published research a year ago which found that spending cuts in Greece caused a dramatic rise in male suicides.
They decided to broaden their research and investigate the effects of fiscal austerity on suicide rates in all Eurozone peripheral countries over the period 1968 – 2012.
Dr Antonakakis said: “Our findings have potentially important implications for policy makers across Europe. Economic and financial issues have dominated policy making in the Eurozone, while health and inequalities in health have arguably remained relatively low key.
“Given that economic and social policy decisions have profound effects on health and its fair distribution, health equity should perhaps be considered an important measure of the effectiveness of social and economic policy making, in addition to wealth equity.”
The research is published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.