The Greek Mental-Health Crisis: As Economy Implodes, Depression and Suicide Rates Soar

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Eirini Vourloumis / The New York Times / Redux

A Greek demonstrator injured in protests takes shelter in Athens on June 15, 2011

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Le Monde.

While the rest of Europe may be tormented by the thought of having to cough up ever more money to bail out Athens, the once carefree Greeks are getting more depressed by the day. Psychiatrists say that the economic crisis has triggered a 25% to 30% increase in the number of patients seeking their help.

"There is an increase in the number of patients suffering from minor psychiatric conditions: anxiety, panic attacks and depression," says Dimitris Ploumidis, head of a mental-health center in eastern Athens. "In September 2010, people had to wait two weeks for a consultation, now it's more like two and a half months."

Before the crisis started, Greece was proud to be at the bottom of the list in Europe for the number of suicides, with a rate of 2.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. But that might be changing. Experts believe that in 2009 the rate of Greek suicides increased by 18% increase compared with 2007, with that figure expected to have climbed even higher in 2010.

Most people who commit suicide come from Athens or the island of Crete, where several business people killed themselves in the midst of grave financial problems. "The desire to commit suicide always has more than one cause, but a lot of those who come to us for help are people who used to make a good living and who are now having financial difficulties," says Aris Violatzis, a psychiatrist from the Klimaka NGO, which runs a suicide hotline.

If experts believe these national blues to stem mainly from economic troubles, they also suspect worries about the future of Greece to be at work too. "The Greek identity has suffered a tremendous blow," says Violatzis. "[People] are ashamed. The entire world today thinks that the Greeks are cheaters and the black sheep of Europe. This is very hard to accept."
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