Suicide rates have fallen in most OECD countries, but have risen sharply in others. The highest rates occur in Hungary, Finland, Japan and Korea, with the lowest in Spain, UK, Italy and Greece. Some 130,000 deaths occurred in OECD countries in 2002. Suicides are up to four times greater among men than women.
Why does suicide happen? Work and school pressures, as well as personal and family stress, even bullying, are often cited. A lack of daylight has been blamed, too; in 2002 suicides were fewer in Mediterranean countries than in Nordic ones. Understanding suicide is complicated by factors like “suicide pacts” and the role of honour.
Suicide, though a serious health concern, can be taboo. Historically in Ireland the actual cause of death was reported, but the suicide aspect overlooked. This practice has changed, and Ireland has recorded a steep rise in suicides in the last decade or so.
Countries are working to tackle suicide, though no simple solution exists. In Hungary, a prevention project based on training professionals has had some success. And in a bid to stop a wave of Internet-assisted suicide pacts in 2004, police in Korea targeted “suicide websites” and search engine results. Learning to detect behavioural change in friends is encouraged in many countries. As the International Association for Suicide Prevention puts it, suicide prevention is everybody’s business.
©OECD Observer No. 252/253, November 2005
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