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European economic crisis takes emotional toll

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 5th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Suicide, depression and a plethora of psychological problems have grown within the European Union in light of the ongoing economic crisis. This comes at a most inopportune time, as governments there have begun to cut healthcare spending by up to 50 percent, according to health organizations.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Austerity measures, intended to control runaway spending while addressing national debt is being called a leading factor in the psychological toll. Some psychologists have blamed austerity measures for growing suicide rates, alcohol abuse and requests for anti-depressants.

"No one should be surprised that factors such as unemployment, debt and relationship breakdowns can cause bouts of mental illness and may push people who are already vulnerable to take their own lives," Richard Colwill, of the British mental health charity Sane says.

"There does appear to be a connection between unemployment rates and suicide for example," Colwill said. He refers to a recent study in the British Medical Journal that stated that more than 1,000 people in the U.K. may have killed themselves because of the impacts of the recession. "This research reflects other work showing similar rises in suicides across Europe."

Josée Van Remoortel, advisor to the European organization Mental Health Europe, the recession is affecting "all areas of life" and not just economies, creating a "deep chasm in our society."

"The credit crunch [has] had one unexpected consequence and one that reflects a deep chasm in our society - a sharp rise in mental health problems, largely caused by uncertainty and fear for the future," he writes.

A recent survey of general practitioners (family doctors) in Britain by the Insight Research Group seems to support Van Remoortel's view.

Out of 300 family doctors surveyed, the majority reported that austerity measures have been damaging their patients' health. Seventy-six percent said their patients were unhealthier due to the economic climate and 77 percent said more patients were seeking treatment for anxiety.

There has also been an increase in the incidence of alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression and requests for abortions due to economic reasons. There is also anecdotal evidence that requests for anti-depressant requests have risen in the U.K., 28 percent from 34 million prescriptions in 2007 to 43.4 million in 2011.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that national governments throughout Europe are deepening spending cuts and cutting mental healthcare by up to 50 percent.

The consequences of spending cuts could be long-lasting and pervasive throughout the continent, Van Remoortel insists.

"The financial crisis will not last forever," Van Remoortel said. "But rushed measures taken by national governments to patch their economies will surely have prolonged effects."

He isn't alone in calling for Europe's governments to avoid cutting spending on mental health, particularly as one in four Europeans -- 215 million people -- will experience a mental health disorder during the course of their lives.

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