If 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 will be remembered for anything, it will be the words 'global economic crisis' and 'austerity measures' reflective of the situation that we all seem to have found ourselves in. Whether these words will be forever linked to 2012 and beyond... who knows? Not being an Economist or anything related, I'm not going to get all political and try and discuss why we are in this position; merely to note that we are where we are and lots and lots of people are suffering as a result.
Perhaps one of the most long-suffering peoples caught up in this crisis are the Greeks. I'm not talking about their Government and other institutions who have overseen successive periods of growth and spending (and spending!), but rather the average Joe or Jane (Costas and Maria in Greek-speak) who have seen cuts in wages, services and jobs. Timely that another general strike begins there today. Many people seem eager to opine as to why Greece was particularly sensitive to the economic crisis but the bottom line is that it is the masses who suffer; and in many cases, the most vulnerable. A touch of irony that 'crisis' is a word derived from Greek as no doubt Gus Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding would have told us.
A recent letter published in the Lancet addresses another side-effect of the financial crisis in Greece, indeed probably the most important side-effect, the health and wellbeing of the Nation. The letter by Kentikelenis and colleagues makes a few eye-catching points about how the economic crisis is now starting to impact on people's lives not just their bank accounts and livelihoods. I was drawn to a few things:
- The rates of unmet medical and dental care increased pre-crisis 2007 to mid-crisis 2009; although the reasons were not necessarily just because of the affordability of health care.
- Health outcomes have worsened as reported by the escalating suicide rate and also numbers of cases of HIV infection coinciding with increased drug abuse and prostitution. There are reliable reports of individuals deliberately exposing themselves to HIV to benefit from the economic and social measures in place.
- Alcohol consumption seems to have dropped and drink-driving offending rates have decreased.
One should perhaps bear in mind that the data presented by Kentikelenis et al is predominantly based on comparisons between 2007 and 2009 before the 'real' austerity measures associated with the economic crisis started to bite.
Other reports add to the dark clouds over health in Greece suggesting that mental health is also deteriorating in many more Greeks, possibly (probably!) tied into the country's financial problems. This piece in Time magazine suggests that more people are seeking the help of mental health practitioners, with waiting times increasing for consultations for things like anxiety and depression. It probably does not help to see that mental health and social services which people are becoming ever more reliant on, will themselves also be cut/suspended as part of the snowball of austerity measures being put in place.
With all the cuts on-going, the question of what is being done for autism-related services in Greece is also at the back of my mind. Having conversed (quite a few years ago) with several people and organisations in Greece with a link to autism, the attitudes and service provision pre-crisis could perhaps most reliably be described as 'developing' at that stage. With the various austerity measures coming into place, it is perhaps incumbent on the Greek Government to ensure that the social and financial gains made in the area of autism and mental health in general, are not seen as an easy money-saving target, alongside the realisation that the health of the Nation, physical and mental, is the health and future of Greece.
Now back to Joanna Lumley and happier memories of the Cradle of Modern Civilisation...
* Kentikelenis A. et al. Health effects of financial crisis: omens of a Greek tragedy. Lancet. October 2011.