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Statistics: suicides in Scandinavia & Europe
nordic flags
The home pages for the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nordic
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Statistics: suicides in Scandinavia & Europe

It's a rather common belief that the Scandinavian countries should be struck by a particularly high incidence of suicides.

This is not entirely true - nor false.

The Nordic countries have a common pattern with relatively fewer suicides among elderly and relatively more suicides among people below the age of 45 years when compared to UK and the Catholic countries of Europe. But the total number of suicides differ rather much between the Nordic countries, with Finland and Denmark unfortunately in the Euro-top while Norway and Iceland report only half as many suicides, and Sweden lies somewhere in-between.

Foreign newspapers and people with certain ideological views like to argue that the Scandinavian societies, with their exertions to equalize the economic differences, as a consequence has seen sky-rocking numbers of suicides.

This is a myth.

Suicide figures have raised during the 20th century. It's easy to guess that secularization, urbanization and increasing availability of suitable drugs have contributed to this. Evidences have, of course, to be indirect. And statistic data do roughly support such an interpretation.

Also comparisons with other nations reveals the misapprehension. There are no simple connections between economic factors and suicide statistics. (Comparisons between nations are of course afflicted with lots of causes of error due to inherent cultural differences.) A closer look on the methods for suicides reveals that availability of toxic sleeping pills also is one of these many theories hard to support despite them seeming possible.

Japan and most Western European nations have relatively low rates of youth suicide - fewer than 15 cases a year for every 100,000 young males. The highest rates - more than 30 cases per 100,000 - are found in Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, and Slovenia.

Also here it's hard to see any simple explanations. How the societies support parents and children does not seem to do as an explanation.

A 1994 study by the Task Force on Suicide in Canada linked suicide among young people to sexual and emotional abuse, stress, unplanned pregnancy, problems concerning sexual preference, unemployment, imprisonment, and running away from home.

But it's not possible to conclude that the economic equalization should play any contributing role. Sooner the opposite. In Sweden the main increase of suicides was during the first half of the 20th century. The radical equalizing of pensions, educational possibilities and family incomes after tax has however belonged to the period 1950-1980.

 --------------------------------------------------------

                    Suicides in Sweden
                   Changes 1980 to 1995
   ----------------------------------------------------
    Trends    Men 1980 --> 1995    Women 1980 --> 1995
   Average   48,5  - - ->  30      15,5   - - ->   13

   age 25-45 48,5  - - ->  32      18     - - ->   13
   age 45-65 59    - - ->  41      24,5   - - ->   20

   age 65--  56    - - ->  47,5    21     - - ->   18
   ----------------------------------------------------
 --------------------------------------------------------

During these latter years the suicide figures continued to raise, but today in the 1990s, the figures are (approximately) back at the level of 1950. This gives no support for the proposed connection between suicide tendencies and equalized life conditions.

It's worth to note that this trend of decreasing suicide rates does not seem to be modified by the changing societal economy, with good times in the second half of the 1980s and quite bad times (and also prospects!) after 1990.

Nordic psychiatrists like to argue that suicides have decreased since light to moderate depressions have been treated more actively in later years as medicines with less severe side effects have become well known. If this is true or not remains however to be proved.

                                                               
                                                               
                      The suicide index                        
                                                               
  Deaths by suicide and self-inflicted injury per 100,000      
  aged 15-24 year 1991-1993, and for all ages year 1995        
                                                               
                                                               
                       Youths 1991-93         all ages 1995    
                        |        m/f ratio                     
                        |        (rounded)                     
                        |               |                       
                        |       Females |      Europe only      
                        |           |   |                      
  Country               |   Males   |   |              pos. 
  =========================================================   
  Greece               2.3    3.8   0.8 5        4.0      1    
  Portugal             3.1    4.3   2.0 2       20.0     12    
                                                               
  Italy                3.7    5.7   1.6 4        8.5      3    
  Spain                4.6    7.1   2.2 3        8.0      2    
                                                               
  Netherlands          6.4    9.1   3.8 2       10.0      6    
  Israel               7.1   11.7   2.5 5                      
  Japan                7.2   10.1   4.4 2                      
                                                               
  United Kingdom                                    -          
  North Ireland                                  9.5      4    
                       7.3   12.2   2.3 5                      
  England/Wales                                 12.0      7    
                                                               
  Scotland                                      14.2      8    
  Romania                      -                11.4      7    
                                                               
  Iceland                      -                13.4      8    
  Denmark              7.8   13.4   2.3 6       28.1     25    
  Germany              8.0   12.7   3.4 4       20 8     13    
                                                               
  Sweden               8.3   10.0   6.7 1       22.9     14    
                                                               
  France               9.1   14.0   4.3 3       24.3     18    
  Poland               9.6   16.6   2.5 7       18.1     11    
                                                               
  Czech Rep.          10.3   16.4   4.3 4       23.1     15    
  Bulgaria            10.5   15.4   5.6 3       16.5      9    
                                                               
  Ukraine             11.3   17.2   5.3 3       26.3     22    
  Ireland             11.8   21.5   2.0 11      10.4      5    
  Hungary             12.3   19.1   5.5 3       40.6     27    
                                                               
  United States       12.9   21.9   3.8 6                      
  Austria             13.8   21.1   6.5 3       24.4     19    
  Belarus             14.7   24.2   5.2 5       23.3     16    
                                                               
  Switzerland         14.9   25.0   4.8 5       25.5     20    
  Canada              15.4   24.7   6.0 4                      
                                                               
  Australia           16.5   27.3   5.6 5                      
  Norway              16.7   28.2   5.2 5       16.6     10    
  Finland             18.1   33.0   3.2 10      34.1     26    
                                                               
  Estonia             20.2   29.7  10.6 3       25.8     21    
  Latvia              22.2   35.0   9.3 4       26.6     24    
  Slovenia            22.7   37.0   8.4 4                      
                                                               
  New Zealand         23.0   39.9   6.2 6                      
  Russian Fed.        24.8   41.7   7.9 5       23.5     17    
  Lithuania           25.8   44.9   6.7 7       26.4     23    
                                                               
  Religious and social strictures against suicide              
  may result in some under-reporting in some nations.          
  ----------------------------------------------------------   
  Source:                                                      
              WHO, World Health Statistics    Flashback        
                   Annual 1993&94, 1994&95    news agency      
                                                               

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© Copyright 1996-2001 by Johan Olofsson.
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The line of flags is modified after a picture at det Åländska skoldatanätet.
This page was last updated October the 26th in the year of 1998.

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