David Blair: The pitiless crisis that is leading despairing Greeks to despair .. and suicide
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.