The intentional killing of oneself can be evidence not
only of personal breakdown, but also of a deterioration of the social context in which
an individual lives. Suicide may be the end-point of a number of different
contributing factors. It is more likely to occur during crisis periods associated with
upheavals in personal relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, clinical
depression and other forms of mental illness. Because of this, suicide is often used
as a proxy indicator of the mental health status of a population.
Suicide is often linked with
depression and the abuse of alcohol and other substances. Early detection of these
psycho-social problems in high-risk groups by families and health professionals is an
important part of suicide prevention campaigns, together with the provision of
effective support and treatment. Many countries are promoting mental health and
developing national strategies for prevention, focussing on at-risk groups. In
Germany, as well as Finland and Iceland, suicide prevention programmes have been based
on efforts to promote strong multisectoral collaboration and networking.
The World Health Organisation defines suicide as an
act deliberately initiated and performed by a person in the full knowledge or
expectation of its fatal outcome. Data on suicide rates are based on official
registers of causes of death.
Mortality rates are based on
numbers of deaths registered in a country in a year divided by the size of the
corresponding population. The rates have been age-standardised to the 2010 OECD
population to remove variations arising from differences in age structures across
countries and over time. The source is the WHO Mortality Database.
Comparability of data between countries is affected by
a number of reporting criteria, including how a person's intention of killing
themselves is ascertained, who is responsible for completing the death certificate,
whether a forensic investigation is carried out, and the provisions for
confidentiality of the cause of death. The number of suicides in certain countries may
be under-estimated because of the stigma that is associated with the act, or because
of data issues associated with reporting criteria. Caution is required therefore in
interpreting variations across countries.
Suicide is a significant cause of death in many
OECD countries, with almost 150 000 such deaths in 2010. Rates were lowest in
southern European countries (Greece, Italy and Spain) and in Mexico and Israel, at
six or less deaths per 100 000 population. Suicides rates were highest in Korea,
Hungary, the Russian Federation and Japan, at more than 20 deaths per 100 000
In general, death rates from
suicide are three-to-four times greater for men than for women across OECD
countries, and this gender gap has been fairly stable over time. The exception is
Korea, where women are much more likely to take their own lives than in other OECD
countries. Suicide is also related to age, with young people aged under 25 and
elderly people especially at risk. While suicide rates among the latter have
generally declined over the past two decades, less progress has been observed
among younger people.
Since 1990, suicide rates
have decreased in many OECD countries, with declines of 40% or more in Denmark,
Estonia, Hungary, Finland and Austria. On the other hand, suicide rates have
increased in Korea, Chile, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Japan and Poland,
although in Mexico rates remain at low levels. In Korea, rates have increased
sharply and are well above the OECD average.
Male suicide rates in Korea
more than doubled from 19 per 100 000 in 1995 to 50 in 2010, and rates among women
are the highest in the OECD, at 21 per 100 000. Between 2006 and 2010, the number
of persons treated for depression and bipolar disease in Korea rose sharply
(increases of 17 and 29 per cent respectively), with those in low socioeconomic
groups more likely to be affected. The economic downturn, weakening social
integration and the erosion of the traditional family support base for the elderly
have all been implicated in Korea's recent increase in suicide rates.