Greek citizens protest the latest round of austerity measures. Researchers suggest harsh spending cuts have encouraged suicides in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland. Photo by Dimitris Michalakis/UPI | License Photo
PORTSMOUTH, England, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- When Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz called Europe's aggressive austerity policies "a mutual suicide pact," he was speaking metaphorically. But his 2012 prediction turned out to be literal, too.
Between 2011 and 2012, more than 6,000 young males in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain committed suicide.
A new study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, suggests the loss of life is the result of economic decline brought on by Europe's austerity measures.
Researchers focused on the eurozone's "periphery countries," nations where debt crises necessitated (according to Europe's economic policy makers) the most severe forms of austerity. Economists Nikolaos Antonakakis and Alan Collins found that, in these nations, one percent fall in GDP growth rate was linked to a 0.9 percent increase in suicide rates across all ages.
Antonakakis and Collins had previously looked at the relationship between spending cuts in Greece and dramatic rise in suicide rates. Their findings were supported by the work of economists in the United States.
This time, Antonakakis and Collins expanded their work to include other countries facing stark economic circumstances.
While their work doesn't prove specific austerity measures are to blame for suicides, the economists suggest austerity measures, like pension and wages cuts, have worsened economic circumstances -- especially for the most vulnerable citizens.
"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," study co-author Antonakakis, a visiting fellow at Portsmouth Business School and an associate professor at Webster Vienna University, said in a press release.
Antonakakis and his research partner also argue austerity has exacerbated unemployment rates. For young people, ages 10 to 24, unemployment rates are an even better predictor of suicide rates than GDP growth (or lack thereof).
For the two researchers in England, the solution is simple: roll back austerity measures. Redistribution policies and a stronger safety will protect citizens from the economic circumstances that promote suicide, they say.
"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," Antonakakis said.