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OECD Factbook 2014: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics
branch Health
branch Health status
    branch Suicides

Suicide is a significant cause of death in many OECD countries, and accounted for over 150 000 deaths in 2011. A complex set of reasons may explain why some people choose to attempt or commit suicide. A large percentage of people who have attempted or committed suicide have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders such as severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The social context in which people live is also important. Low income, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment and isolation are all associated with higher rates of suicide.

Definition

The World Health Organization 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

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.

Overview

Suicide rates among OECD countries in 2011 were lowest in Greece, Turkey, Mexico and Italy, at six or fewer deaths per 100 000 population. It was also low in Brazil. In Korea, Hungary, the Russian Federation and Japan, on the other hand, suicide was responsible for more than 20 deaths per 100 000 population. There is a ten-fold difference between Korea and Greece, the two countries with the highest and lowest suicide rates.

Death rates from suicide are four times greater for men than for women across OECD countries. In Greece and Poland, men are at least seven times more likely to commit suicide than women. The gender gap in these two countries has widened in recent years. In Luxembourg and the Netherlands, the gender gap is much smaller, but male suicide rates are still twice those of females. Suicide is also related to age, with young people and elderly people especially at risk.

Since 1990, suicide rates have decreased by over 20% across OECD countries, with pronounced declines of over 40% in some countries such as Hungary and Estonia. However, death rates from suicides have increased in countries such as Korea and Japan. In Japan, there was a sharp rise in the mid-to-late 1990s, coinciding with the Asian Financial Crisis, but rates have remained stable since then. Suicide rates also rose sharply at this time in Korea and, unlike in Japan, have continued to increase. It is now the fourth leading cause of death in Korea. Mental health services in Korea lag behind those of other countries with fragmented and insufficient support for people in need of such services. Further efforts are also needed to remove the stigma associated with seeking care.

In a number of countries, suicide rates rose slightly at the start of the economic crisis in 2008, but more recent data suggest that this trend did not persist. Still, there is a need for countries to continue monitoring developments closely in order to be able to respond quickly, in particular monitoring high-risk populations such as the unemployed and those with psychiatric disorders.

 

Sources

Further information
Analytical publications
Statistical publications
Online databases
Websites
Indicator in PDF Acrobat PDF page

Figures 
Suicide rates Figure in Excel
Suicide rates
Trends in suicide rates Figure in Excel
Trends in suicide rates
Change in suicide rates Figure in Excel
Change in suicide rates
 



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