As Europe’s debt crisis continues, an increasing number of its citizens are suffering from depression and other psychological problems, including suicide, a situation only expected to get worse as European governments enact austerity measures that include slashing healthcare coverage.
CNBC is reporting that European health bodies are warning governments not to cut back on health care coverage at a time when suicide rates, alcohol abuse and requests for anti-depressants are rising sharply as citizens struggle to cope with the continent’s ongoing recession.
“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, told CNBC.
“There does appear to be a connection between unemployment rates and suicide for example,” he said, referring 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 (MHE), said the financial crisis is affecting all areas of life, not just economies, and its impact on mental health is 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 in a paper entitled “The Sane Approach.”
According to a recent survey of 300 family doctors in Britain by the Insight Research Group, 76 percent said their patients were unhealthier due to the economic climate and 77 percent said more patients were seeking treatment for anxiety.
The incidence of alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression and requests for abortions due to economic reasons in the UK have risen 28 percent from 34 million prescriptions in 2007 to 43.4 million in 2011.
These statistic become even more dire when factoring in plans by European governments to trim their healthcare budges by as much as 50 percent, which would leave many without the mental health care assistance they need.
“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.”
John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy was even more grim when he predicted that Europe could be “sleep-walking into a catastrophe” if these budget cuts are enacted.
“The economic crisis should not turn into a health crisis. Financial hardship cannot jeopardize people’s health and access to healthcare,” he said at a recent meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee.
“Cutting back on healthcare delivery is invariably a false economy, triggering worsening outcomes in the longer term — for people’s health, for health systems, for society and the economy as a whole,” he said.
But many countries can no longer sustain their massive social programs and have no choice but to make cuts or see their economies fail altogether.
“Our concern is that people will be doubly penalized. At a time when we would reasonably expect there to be an increase in demand for mental health support, in the U.K. we are seeing cuts to services across the board,” Colwill told CNBC.
“With stretched services already seeing people fall through the cracks, our fear is that the fault lines can only widen.”
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