Sunday, 13 January 2008

Stress and debt make Sydney a violent city

SYDNEY is an angry city with longer working hours, climbing levels of debt and traffic snarls.

People are trying to cope with increasing stress that leads to alcohol-fuelled violence and a less tolerant society, a sociologist has warned.

James Arvanitakis, from the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney, said Sydneysiders were increasingly feeling the pressures of a competitive society, getting more and more frustrated with everyday annoyances such as public transport delays and feeling increasingly time poor.

"Even though there's quite a lot of wealth, people feel like there's this feeling of competitiveness and that's both on a professional and personal level," Dr Arvanitakis said.

"It's an angry city. It's a combination of the number of work hours and increasing levels of debt and people are feeling the ongoing pressure to buy more and more consumer goods."

Tony Grabs, the director of trauma at St Vincent's Hospital in Darlinghurst, said the number of people admitted to the hospital with injuries from alcohol- and drug-related violence had risen dramatically.

From October 2003 to September 2004, 120 patients were admitted to St Vincent's following an assault or stabbing, Dr Grabs said.

Of those, 54 had been alcohol- or drug-related attacks.

But from October 2006 to September last year, the number of admissions was 197 and those related to alcohol or drugs had nearly doubled to 90.

Dr Grabs believes the latter figures could be even higher. They did not take into account patients who presented to the hospital but were not admitted.

"Over three years, that's a dramatic increase," Dr Grabs said.

Dr Grabs said many city office workers and professionals used alcohol as a way to release work stress but said they were drinking at more harmful levels than they used to.

"It's a fast life," he said of Sydney. "With a fast life there is a perception that they need to unwind.

"Unfortunately, they're unwinding with alcohol."

Dr Grabs said a relatively strong local economy with good employment levels was keeping the violence from getting out of control but he feared what would happen should a recession hit, combined with interest rate increases.

He also said Sydney's cultural mix could sometimes fuel some of the assaults and stabbings.

Figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics show a rise in assaults - both domestic-violence related and non-domestic related - over the past 10 years, and police agree alcohol-related violence is a problem.

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