Italian Economic Slump Leads to Rise in Suicides

Shortly after discovering that his sister and brother-in-law  had committed suicide in their eastern Italian home, 73-year old Giuseppe Sopranzi committed suicide as well by throwing himself into the sea.    While he was safely returned to shore, he could not be revived afterward.    The bodies of Romeo Dionsi, 62, and Ann Sopranzi 68, had been found by neighbours at their home in Civitanova last April and her brother died the same day.  Police investigating the triple suicide linked the deaths to the serious financial troubles all three had been facing.    Following austerity moves by the Italian government in the wake of the worst economic recession since World War II, Romeo Dionsi had been stripped of his pension and right to unemployment insurance due to the sharp rise in the retirement age.   Left with only the 500 euro pension his wife was receiving, the couple found themselves unable to pay their rent and too ashamed to seek public assistance.   After leaving a note in front of their garage explaining where their bodies would be found, they hanged themselves.    

Despite attempts by authorities at branding the triple tragedy a unique occurrence, a recent report has shown a sharp rise in suicides in Italy this year.   Apparently spurred on by the economic recession, the suicide rate in Italy has jumped by 40 percent in the first three months of this year alone.    According to the Report on Global Rights 2013,  the largest group of suicides (30 percent) occurred in Italy's industrialized northern provinces which  have been the hardest hit by the recession.     In almost half of all suicides, the economic recession was directly linked.   The single largest category, loss of employment, accounted for 28 percent of suicides.    The unemployment rate in Italy rose to 12.2 percent overall in May marking the 16th month in a row that unemployment in Italy has topped 10 percent.   The current unemployment is the highest on record since statistics were first kept in 1977. 

Given the link between financial distress and suicide as well as the precarious economic situation in much of Europe,  the current suicide trend is unlikely to change in the forseeable future.    While suicide prevention centres are warning about the impact that the economic situation is having on suicide,  government sources suggest that the suicide crisis being reported in the media may be exaggerated.   According to Carlo Dell'Aringa, undersecretary at Italy's Ministry of Labour, the media is more likely to report suicides when the economy is doing poorly.   "People say that there has been an increase but it is not as bad as one might imagine. When there is an economic crisis, the news of a suicide is something which hits public opinion; this news comes out more frequently during an economic crisis than at other times,"  he said in an interview with local media.   He also admitted that the Ministry of Labour has no strategy for dealing with economic suicides.

In the meantime, Maurizio Pompili, director of the Suicide Prevention Centre at the Sant'Andrea Hospital, Sapienza University of Rome, is calling for a national strategy since existing suicide hotlines are overwhelmed with calls for help.   He feels that suicide prevention centres should be available in every region of Italy.     The Sant'Andrea hotline which he helped establish is currently unable to cope with the current volume of calls.    Pompili stated that a new awareness campaign is needed to help counter the "unbearable psychological pain" arising from job loss or economic hardship.    "When you have hopelessness, and you don't have expectations about what good can come in the future,"  he said, suicide may seem like the only option.

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