A spike in suicides is blamed on the economic crisis that could also bring down the country.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 04/06/12
Mourners stand around the spot where a man committed suicide at the central Syntagma Square in Athens. [Reuters]
On May 24th, Antonis Perris, 60, and his 90-year-old mother went to the roof of their five-story apartment building in a working-class area of Athens. Witnesses said they leaped to their deaths -- two more statistics in the rising number of Greeks killing themselves, an anomaly in a country which had one of the lowest suicide rates in the world.
Two years ago, World Health Organization rankings of 107 countries placed Greece 84th on the number of suicides, behind Serbia and Montenegro that ranked together at 14th, Croatia at 17th; Bulgaria at 32nd; Romania at 33rd; Bosnia and Herzegovina at 37th; Macedonia at 51st; Albania at 74th; Turkey at 76th, and Cyprus at 81st.
Now Greece has the fastest rise in the region, according to the suicide prevention group Get Involved. To blame is the economic crisis that has gripped Greece for two years -- many have been driven to poverty by austerity measures demanded by international lenders in return for rescue loans.
A suicide helpline at the Athens-based NGO Klimaka has seen calls spike from less than ten a day to up to 100, said Aris Violatzis, a clinical psychologist, adding that 75% are related to the crisis.
"People say how desperate they feel, how they feel like failures," he told SETimes.
Perris, a musician, had been caring for his mother for 20 years, and that she was given to schizophrenic fits. But the end came when his income dried up and they were living on her pension of 340 euros a month. He wrote about his plight on a website the day before his death.
"The problem is that I didn't realise that I would need to have cash, because the economic crisis came so suddenly. Even though I have been selling our possessions, we have no cash flow, we have no money to buy food anymore, and my credit card is maxed out with 22% interest rate," Perris wrote.
"Suicides bloom in times of economic crisis," Stratos Georgoulas, a professor of sociology at the University of the Aegean on the island of Lesbos told SETimes. "There are two reasons: political and economic. People feel frustrated with the political class that rules the country and gained from the crisis."
Suicides in Greece continue at a record pace. A 38-year-old university lecturer hanged himself from a lamp-post in Athens on April 23rd, the same day a 35-year-old priest jumped to death from a balcony in northern Greece.
That more people are killing themselves is a sign of how desperate they have become in a country where suicide is stigmatised. The Greek Orthodox Church refuses rites to those who kill themselves.
Greek men especially feel the burden of being the head of the family, and a failure when they can't provide, said Konstandinos Kannelakis, a professor of psychology at the American College of Greece in Athens.
"There's a real loss of status which makes them, especially men, feel incomplete," Kannelakis told SETimes. "There is pressure for them to provide for the family. It's a phenomenon in Greece that men don't seek professional help as easy as women and consider it a defeat."
Until 2009, when the crisis broke, Greece had one of the lowest suicide rates in the world.
Since then, suicides have increased 22%, according to the Athens News Agency. Nearly 600 people killed themselves in 2011, with authorities saying most blamed the crisis.