While twisters and terror attacks ransack societies in an obvious way, crippling economic decline is more of a chronic disease, slowly withering a nation until its systems stop working. By that logic, Greece is a body in shambles.
The road to financial ruin has robbed Greek citizens of money, job security and peace of mind. And, over the last five years, austerity measures attached to bailouts have decimated government services, including health care programs. Growing indigence, lingering uncertainty and eroded government safety nets have left Greece with a public health crisis that some experts are calling urgent. It’s no surprise, then, that, as a result, more Greeks are suffering from sleep disorders.
Historically, when an economy tanks, the public panics about general instability and possible layoffs. People who report feeling insecure about their job prospects, research has shown, also report worse psychological well-being.
Last year, researchers looked at changes in the sleep habits of several hundred National Greek Railway Service employees between 2005 and 2010. During that period, Greece fell into debt and the government froze Railway Service hiring. In 2010, the first round of spending cuts hit Greek citizens, which meant the employed railway workers feared both job loss as well as the threat of slashed salaries, higher taxes and fewer government safety nets.
Overall, railway employees reported getting less, lower-quality sleep night in 2010 than they had in 2005. Sleep quality was based on the occurrence of disturbances including nightmares, night sweats, apneas and feelings of suffocation. Additionally, participants reported increased levels of daytime sleepiness in 2010.
That sleep is a direct measure of collective psychological health is debatable. But erratic rest habits are associated with mental disorders including depression. According to epidemiological surveys, Greeks’ mental and emotional well-being has considerably declined since the start of the recession. In spite of this, Greeks have less access to mental health services — state funding fell 20 percent between 2010 and 2011, International Business Times reported, and another 55 percent the following year.
As of Tuesday, Greece has accepted three bailouts in five years, each aid deal attached to more severe austerity measures. They’ve resulted in fewer subsidized health care services, new outpatient charges and pricier medication. A 2014 report by the University of Cambridge on data and living conditions revealed that 47 percent more Greeks felt deprived of necessary health care. As a result, penniless Greeks are taking medical care into their own hands by sharing prescriptions or, in many cases, ignoring treatments, including sleep-clinic visits.
Between 2008 and 2011, one study showed, the number of patients visiting and receiving treatment at one Greek sleep clinic fell by about 25 percent. Among those who kept seeking treatment, there was a 40 percent increase in complaints of nightmares. While a similar percentage of patients were treated for sleep apnea in 2008 and 2011, the number who received CPAP treatment (continuous positive airway pressure) declined by about (81.6 to 52.3 percent). The change in the number of patients, their symptoms and their decisions to forego treatment, researchers concluded, reflected the economic crisis.
Given this information, it’s no wonder that the state of life in Greece has been deemed a humanitarian crisis. Sleep issues may not seem that important in comparison to, say, rising suicide rates. But widespread failure to get shut-eye speaks to societal instability. It’s called a state of unrest for a reason.