Think our economy sucks? Europe is bottoming-out twice as fast, twice as hard. Unfortunately, that is giving rise to a disturbing trend: Europeans committing suicide over their financial woes in light of the economic crisis.
On New Year’s Eve, Antonio Tamiozzo, 53, hung himself in a warehouse of his construction business near Vicenza when debtors didn’t pay him what they owed. Three weeks before that, Giovanni Schiavon, 59, shot himself over his failing construction company outside of Padua, leaving only a cryptic note saying, “Sorry, I cannot take it anymore.”
The economic crisis in Europe has affected nations like Greece, Ireland and Italy the most, and an alarming spike in suicide rates among entrepreneurs and small-business owners is leading some European newspapers to call the trend “suicide by economic crisis.” Most, like Tamiozzo and Schiavon above, die in relative obscurity, but there are very public cases like the 77-year-old retiree who shot himself outside of the Greek Parliament on April 4, a very public and dramatic message to the leaders of the countries that have failed their people.
Greece, Ireland, and Italy are particularly troubling. The suicide rate among men increased more than 24 percent from 2007 to 2009. Ireland saw suicides among men rise more than 16% in the same time period. In Italy, suicides by economic crisis have risen 52% – 187 in 2010 from 123 in 2005.
Governments make the problem worse. “Financial crisis puts the lives of ordinary people at risk, but much more dangerous is when there are radical cuts to social protection,” said David Stuckler, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge. “Austerity can turn a crisis into an epidemic,” he added. Sometimes, the government compounds the problem by not paying its debts to struggling businessmen. “That is the madness of this crisis, that people kill themselves because they haven’t been paid by public institutions,” said Massimo Nardin, a spokesman for the Padua Chamber of Commerce.
Private creditors have dropped the ball as well, contributing to the trend. “The problem is the system, no one is paying any more — private, public, it’s all blocked,” said Salvatore Federico, general secretary of the Veneto branch of the Filca Cisl construction workers’ union. “The situation in general is stalled, and my sense is that no one knows how to get out of it.”
Italians in particular are upset that the issue hasn’t gotten more attention. “This is a social malaise, we’re inside a tunnel and there’s no light at any end,” said Mr. Federico, who is starting a foundation to assist victims of the disturbing trend. “People don’t kill themselves just because they have debts,” he said, “it’s a combination of factors that lead to desperation. But what links all these situations ultimately is indifference, and lack of respect for the years of work that they’d done,” continuing, “On some level, they must have felt that.”
How long before we see the same here at home? Will the U.S. start seeing suicides by economic crisis like Europe has?