Finland has been known internationally for many years for its high suicide rate. In the countries of southern Europe, almost everyone remembers a person who died in a road accident, but for many Finns it is common to have someone in mind who has put an end to their life.
The issue of this high suicide rate has even been used abroad to question the health of Finnish society and even the effectiveness of its welfare system.
However, experts have also argued that one of the reasons why Finland has been leading suicide rankings for decades is simply because it was one of the first states in the world to produce reliable statistics on this problem, which is still considered taboo in many countries.
The worrying fact is that a few years ago was interrupted the 30-year decline in suicides recorded since the year 1990, when more than 1,500 were committed.
According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, in Finnish Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos (THL), since 2015 the downtrend has been changing. For example in 2016 and 2017 the number of suicides increased, according to Statistics Finland's data.
More men than women
The Forensic Medicine Unit of THL guides and supervises cause of death investigations, verifies death certificates and performs forensic autopsies in Finland. According to their report 'Suicide Deaths in Finland 2016-2018', there were 2,400 suicides in Finland between 2016 and 2018, including 1830 men and 570 women. Of these, 56 people were under 18 years of age.
The report also explains that suicide mortality was higher in the special catchment areas of Kuopio and Oulu university hospitals, and it was lower in the special catchment area of Helsinki university hospital, as compared to the whole Finland.
In regional terms, suicide mortality was higher in the hospital districts of Länsi-Pohja, Kainuu, Northern Savonia, Central Finland, and Northern Ostrobothnia, and lower in the hospital districts of Central Ostrobothnia, and Helsinki and Uusimaa, as compared to the whole country.
Age and gender differences
For men, the highest rate of deaths from suicide was among those of 25 to 34 years of age, and for women among those of 20 to 24 years.
THL explains in its report that the most frequent medical conditions contributing to suicide were alcohol and depressive disorders. Both of these groups of disorders had contributed to about one in four suicide deaths.
The most frequent method of suicide was hanging, the second was poisoning, and the third was shooting. Poisoning was more frequent in the hospital district of Southwest Finland. Shooting was more common in the hospital districts of Kainuu, Northern Savo and Northern Ostrobothnia (especially for men over 35 years).
Depression and substance abuse
According to THL experts, "the exact reason for the end of the long-term positive trend is unknown."
“Perhaps the lessons of an old suicide prevention project from 1986 to 1996 have been forgotten as the generation has changed. Population growth itself increases the likelihood that the number of cases will increase,” estimates Mental Health Research Professor Timo Partonen.
"However, suicide prevention methods are still the same as in the early 1990s," he emphasizes.
THL stresses that good treatment of depression and substance abuse and long-term physical illness are key in order to reduce the number of suicide deaths.
As part of the National Mental Health Strategy, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is launching a suicide prevention program, seeking a clear reduction in suicide rates.
*For more information, you can download THL's report 'Suicide Deaths in Finland 2016-2018' (in Finnish) HERE