A broken economy means broken bodies — bodies that give way under stress, inadequate and unavailable health care, and in some places, fewer available supplies to treat the increased numbers of ill. Greece points the way.

However invisible it may be, self-esteem is perhaps the first casualty of a crisis. “Several studies have shown that unemployment increases both the risk of psychiatric and somatic disorders,” Dr. Cesar Chelala writes. “For example, a strong correlation has been found between job loss and clinical and subclinical depression, substance abuse, anxiety and antisocial behavior. In addition, several studies have shown that prolonged unemployment increases mortality rates.”

A U.K. study showed that a recent mass rise in unemployment was associated with a 4.45 percent rise in suicides and a 28 percent increase in deaths from alcohol poisoning.

In Greece, a general inability to pay personal debts is thought to be a cause of a 40 percent rise in suicides in the first six months of 2011, compared with the same period a year earlier. Homicide and theft rates almost doubled for the same period, with 25 percent of people who called a national suicide hotline reporting financial difficulties in 2010.

A spike in intravenous drug use among Greeks may account for a rise of more than 1,000 percent in HIV infections among drug addicts. The rate of infection among the general population was estimated to be 52 percent higher in 2011 than in 2010. Prostitution and unsafe sex are thought to be responsible as well.

“The situation in Greece may be a harbinger of things to come in other countries with similar social and health care systems that risk going through difficult economic situations, such as Cyprus,” Chelala writes. “It is up to the governments in those countries to rationalize resources, increase efficiency and protect their most valuable asset: the health of its citizens.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


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