Press enter to search
Inequality

Austerity Syndrome: Suicides Are Only the First Symptom

Research & Commentary
July 17, 2012

by Salvatore Babones

Forget the economic news.  The health news from Greece is far more grim.  Drug companies aren’t supplying basic medicines.  Hospitals are turning away patients needing surgery.  Suicides are up 40%.

Some of the health effects of austerity are obvious.  Hospitals close, the sick are denied care, and people turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with their problems.

Other effects are harder to spot.  There are three main pathways through which social conditions impact people’s health.  Austerity will have negative material, behavioral, and psychosocial impacts on health for years to come.

From a material standpoint, austerity will harm health through cuts to healthcare and the deterioration of health infrastructure.  Such measures produce short-term cost savings but long-term damage to health.  For example, reduced diabetes care today puts more people in wheelchairs decades down the road.

From a behavioral standpoint, austerity is already pushing large numbers of people toward alcohol abuse, drug addiction, and even suicide.  These problems particularly affect men who are thrown into unemployment.  The long-term effects include liver disease, lung cancer, and kidney failure.

[pullquote]Expect life expectancy in Greece and other austerity-hit countries to drop in coming years.[/pullquote]

From a psychosocial standpoint, chronic stress causes high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, and weakened immune systems.  All these health problems are related to chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is released when people experience feelings of helplessness.

All three pathways through which austerity affects health reinforce each other to produce potentially catastrophic long-term impacts on life expectancy.  This is what happened in Russia and Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed.  There were short-term impacts on healthcare as communist health systems fell apart, but the long-term cumulative effects on health are still depressing live expectancy.

Expect life expectancy in Greece and other austerity-hit countries to drop in coming years.  The drop will likely be small for women but large for men, as it was after the collapse of communism.  Suicides are only the first symptom of austerity syndrome.  The worst is yet to come.

Topics
Inequality,
Explore More

We’ll All Need Home Care Someday

June 9, 2022 /

by Alison Holmes


And many of us, like my son, need home care today. Our leaders should close the Medicaid coverage gap and bolster funds for home and community-based services. What will it take for Congress to act?

Inequality

Are Americans Better Off than Their Parents?

July 18, 2012

by Salvatore Babones

Racial Wealth Divide

New York, New York, A Most Unequal Town

July 12, 2012

by Inequality.org

Stay informed

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter