Suicides are about people, not numbers – MHE and FEANTSA call for EU Action Plan on Homelessness
One of the main characteristics of the current financial crisis is an obsession with number crunching. Concerned with figures, many European Union (EU) governments have launched austerity plans that have forced rising numbers of people into joblessness, and not only damaged efforts to improve the lives of the most excluded members of society, but also pushed new masses of people into poverty.
The effect that austerity measures have on families and communities is now becoming increasingly clear. For each 1% rise in the unemployment rate, there is a 0.8% rise in the rate of suicides. The Greek National Centre of Social Solidarity reports that the percentage of people seeking help for food and shelter has doubled, and the number of people who are unable to cover their living costs increased significantly. In the United Kingdom, homelessness is reported to have risen by 25% since 2009.
Naturally, becoming homeless takes a serious toll on people’s mental health. At the same time, people with existing mental health problems are more vulnerable to losing their homes, as studies show that mental illness was is one of the most important causes of homelessness. In most EU countries, more than 50% of the homeless population suffers from serious mental health problems. What is more, homeless people are more likely to complete suicide than the general population - in Denmark, homeless men were found to be 7.3 times more likely to take their own lives than the general population, and homeless women were an astonishing 14.8 times more likely to do so. Other UK research states that the prevalence rates of suicide in the homeless population range from 1-3%, compared to approximately 0.0001% in the general population.
Therefore, on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, Mental Health Europe and FEANTSA would like to remind the governments of EU Member States and the EU institutions that suicides are about people, not numbers. The helplessness and desperation felt by a person willing to take their own life is unquantifiable, and real action must be taken to ensure that all people have their most basic needs met, such as that of a stable home, in times of crisis or otherwise.
Thus, it is time for European governments and institutions to get serious about combating suicide though targeted campaigns aimed at the most excluded members of society. Mental Health Europe and FEANTSA call on the European Commission to create a comprehensive EU Action Plan on Homelessness that includes a comprehensive mental health perspective, and to prevent suicides by ensuring that affordable and adequate housing is available to all.
We also call on the Member States to ensure a proper implementation of the Action Plan, demonstrating their commitment to human rights and social justice.
“If we are to talk numbers, by 2020, suicides are estimated to contribute more than 2% to the global burden of disease,” said Maria Nyman, MHE Director. “Surely, in a cash-strapped Europe dependent on healthy workers, that ought to mean something”.
“This is yet another reason why the European Commission should answer repeated calls for an EU Homelessness Action Plan – which gives adequate attention to mental health problems,” Freek Spinnewijn, FEANTSA Director, added.
For more information, please contact MHE Information and Communications Officer Silvana Enculescu at firstname.lastname@example.org, or FEANTSA Communications Officer Suzannah Young at email@example.com