Greece, 10 Years Into Economic Crisis, Counts the Cost to Mental Health
The Council of Europe report noted that “unemployed persons, bankrupt businessmen, or parents who have no means of taking care of or feeding their children” were among new admissions to psychiatric units, most age 40 and older with no previous signs of mental illness.
The Health Ministry ran a pilot program at hospitals in Athens last year aimed at ensuring all areas of the capital have at least one psychiatric hospital or clinic operating as a walk-in center at any given time, helping admissions to “stabilize” at Dafni and Dromokaiteio last year. Three new clinics opened in Greek hospitals in 2018, the ministry said, and there are plans for 16 more.
In the meantime, much of the burden falls to Greece’s three main psychiatric hospitals — Dafni, Dromokaiteio, and the Psychiatric Hospital of Thessaloniki — which in addition to providing health care fills the void left by cuts to social services.
“Apart from the psychiatric cases, we have social cases, too,” said Dr. Nektarios Drakonakis of Dafni. “People come, they say, ‘I don’t have a home, I don’t have papers, I don’t have relatives, I don’t have anywhere to go.’”
A 2016 law providing free access to health care for uninsured patients has been an invaluable safety net, said Ms. Kalantzi, the Dafni director.
“When the delirium begins, many lose control of their finances, and then lose their insurance,” she said.
But the spike in demand for psychological and psychiatric help coincided with dwindling staff levels and slashed budgets. Annual state spending on mental health was halved over 2011 and 2012, and it has been trimmed further each year since then. Austerity measures required hiring freezes, even as hundreds of workers retired.