The number of suicides in Greece is likely to increase significantly in 2010, mainly due to the country's financial crisis, a state-funded mental health charity said Friday.
Officials from the Klimaka group said the number of calls received at its suicide prevention hot line had tripled since the beginning of the year, adding that unofficial data gathered by the organization suggest that the number of suicides is expected to be twice the last recorded official number — 366 deaths in 2008.
Official figures for 2010 will be released by the country's National Statistics Authority next year.
The group's director, psychiatrist Kyriakos Katasdoros, also said there was a sharp rise in demand for its psychiatric counseling services and food banks for the homeless.
"The number of calls has tripled... We were receiving about five to eight calls per day (last year). Now we have 15 to 35 calls," Katasdoros told The Associated Press, referring to calls made to the hot line that were considered serious.
"The trend is getting worse. From the figures that we have gathered this year, we are seeing that the suicide rate has doubled."
Speaking from the organization's walk-in clinic, in a rundown area in central Athens, Katasdoros also warned of a rise in homelessness since the crisis began.
"There is a new category that we are witnessing: they are generally from a middle-income background and are often educated. We have not seen this before."
Katasdoros said most suicides are attributed to a combination of factors, but that staff operating the prevention hot line had reported a "clear increase" in economic concerns expressed by callers, including mounting personal debt and unemployment.
Greece's Socialist government has slashed payrolls and benefits this year to deal with a debt crisis that brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy in May.
Painful reforms agreed before Greece began receiving international rescue loans — worth €110 billion over three years — have deepened the country's recession and led to a rash of store closures in city centers, with unemployment hitting 12 percent in May.
Klimaka employs 170 staff and receives most of its funding from the government. It operates the country's only national suicide prevention hot line, was well as homeless shelters, free medical clinics and psychiatric assistance clinics in Athens and other parts of Greece. It also helps train counselors in Iraq, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.