Greece sinks to its knees

Monday, February 27, 2012
By Paul Martin

The recent bail-out, which imposes strict new austerity measures on the Greeks, will deepen a crisis that has already driven up the suicide rate by 40 per cent. David Blair reports from Athens on a nation that eyes the future without hope.

By David Blair
26 Feb 2012

If popular protest in the graffiti-stained heart of Athens is the most obvious sign of Greece’s burgeoning crisis, a handful of volunteers gathered inside a suburban office provides a quieter, but no less painful, symbol of the country’s agony. These restrained, dedicated people meet in the modest headquarters of Klimaka, a mental health and social integration charity serving as Greece’s version of the Samaritans.

In a country where suicide is so vehemently stigmatised that it amounts to the social problem that dare not speak its name, a specialised telephone service offering counselling to those in despair began as recently as 2007. Today, the psychiatrists and psychologists who answer whenever someone dials “1018” are busier than ever. As the national economic crisis has worsened, so the volume of calls has grown.

In 2010, the service spoke to 2,500 people judged to be contemplating suicide. Last year, Greece’s first euro bail-out failed and the country’s unemployment rate rose by half in the space of 12 months, climbing from 13.9 to 20.9 per cent. As more and more people confronted redundancy and destitution, the plaintive calls to Klimaka more than doubled: 5,500 people thought to be at serious risk rang in 2011.

Today , the German parliament will vote on whether to endorse a second bail-out that was agreed by eurozone finance ministers last week on condition that Greece implements some of the harshest austerity measures ever imposed on a Western democracy. After five years of recession, Greece must now endure almost a decade of further economic self-flagellation in order to reduce its national debt from 160 per cent of gross domestic product to 120.5 per cent in 2020. That is the language of Brussels communiqués and central bankers; but the true voice of economic crisis is heard by Klimaka’s volunteers every day.

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