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MONDAY, Feb. 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Economic crises and government cost-cutting may have prompted sharp spikes in suicides in Greece between 2008 and 2012, a new study suggests.
Researchers found a 13 percent rise in suicides among men beginning in October 2008, when Greece's economy took a sharp turn for the worse.
A 36 percent, sustained increase in suicides among men and women occurred in June 2011, when the Greek government passed unpopular spending cuts, which were followed by bank closures and strikes that halted most public services, according to the study.
"Suicides closely followed the announcements of specific government economic programs in Greece, and grew to their highest levels in 2012 as economic austerity measures and public outcries accumulated in number and scale," senior study author Charles Branas, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
The sustained increase in suicides was larger among women than among men, a finding that challenges previous research showing that economic problems lead to larger increases in suicides among men, not women, the study authors said.
The researchers also found a large, but temporary, 30 percent rise in suicides in April 2012, after the highly publicized suicide of a male pensioner in Athens' main square. That suicide was believed to be linked to government austerity measures.
The researchers noted that there was a sudden, but temporary, 27 percent fall in suicide rates among men in Greece when the country began using the Euro currency in January 2002. That suggests that positive economic news can have a positive impact on mental health, according to the authors of the study published online Feb. 2 in the BMJ Open.
"Tragically, the impact of austerity measures on suicides is more significant and lasting than prosperity-related events, such as the launch of the Euro in Greece, and appears to affect both men and women, though the trend is more pronounced in men," Branas said.
The study only showed an association between fiscal crises and suicide rates, not a cause-and-effect link.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: University of Pennsylvania, news release, Feb. 2, 2015