Italians have been taking their own lives at an alarming rate as a result of the economic crisis in recent weeks, forcing a business group to put in place a dedicated psychological assistance network.
Daily media reports have thrown the spotlight on the desperation of small business owners, workers and unemployed people who have lost hope as the economy struggles through recession and unemployment reaches record highs.
One of the most shocking cases was the self-immolation last month of a 58-year-old builder in Bologna in central Italy who was under pressure over unpaid taxes. He died of his burns in hospital after nine days of agony.
In the latest case on Thursday, a 53-year-old farmer was found hanged in his farm building in northeast Italy, leaving behind a wife and four children. He had told friends and relatives that his business was in serious financial trouble.
The leader of the center-right People of Freedom party, Angelino Alfano, pointed to “a wave of suicides linked to economic difficulties.”
Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of Fiat, Italy’s biggest private company, said: “This is the reflection of an unsustainable situation.”
Antonio Di Pietro, leader of the center-left Italy of Values party, added controversy to the phenomenon earlier this month when he blamed Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti directly saying: “These suicides are on his conscience.”
He accused Monti of “lying in the newspapers about the crisis being over.”
Already hit by the global financial crisis in 2009, Italy’s economy has now been weakened even more by the debt crisis and a series of austerity plans approved last year in a bid to reassure the markets over the stability of its finances.
The economy fell back into recession in the second half of last year.
Italy’s large immigrant population has also been feeling the pain of economic troubles. Last month, a 27-year-old Moroccan builder who had not been paid for months set himself on fire in Verona.
“He shouted out that he hadn’t been paid for four months and poured gasoline over himself before setting himself alight. Police raced to put the flames out and he has been taken to hospital,” a police official said.
The spate of suicides has prompted the association Businesses That Resist to put in place in several regions a network of psychologists who help business owners and workers discuss their problems and receive care.
“It’s not hard to find yourself in great difficulty,” said Massimo Mazzucchelli, a businessman from Varese in northern Italy behind the project.
Mazzuchelli said some of the most frequent problems were debts, payment of tax arrears, delayed payments by clients and getting loans from banks.
“There is therefore a concrete need for psychological assistance since the situation is getting worse,” he said.
However, he said that getting business people to admit they need help is not always easy.
“They have often done everything on their own and are used to resolving their problems on their own,” he said.
Kety Ceolin, a psychoanalyst from the Venice region, said that the business owners who come to her are struggling with “shame” and have the feeling “that there is no one out there to ask for help.”