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Suicide rates of the world and why people kill themselves

May 11, 2007

According to WHO statistics, one person commits suicide every 40 seconds. Suicide rates all over the world have increased by 5- 62% in the last two decades. Hardly any country is immune to this disease. Whats disturbing is that more young people are killing themselves than ever before.

Which countries are the worst off where suicide is concerned? Given below is the suicide map of the world:

For analysis purposes, I have divided the countries into four groups, depending on their suicide rates. I have compared their suicide rates to their happiness index to see if there is a relationship. I am not an expert, just a layman who is intensely interested in the subject so do forgive me if I am wrong in my analysis. I have also taken the statistics to be true mostly (there may be problems in the research). I welcome any one of you to add their thoughts.

Group 1 (High suicide rate): Europe and major parts of Asia seem to have a high suicide rate. In fact Russia and other countries which were part of the erstwhile Soviet Union, like Lithuania (42 suicides per 100,000), Russia (38), Belarus (35) and Kazakhstan (28] and Ukraine (26) have high suicide rates. Now, all these countries are young countries. Hungary (27) has a long history of occupation by Soviet troops.

Why do so many people in these countries kill themselves?
Well, generally speaking, people commit suicide because they feel there is no other solution, no hope left. The reasons could either be financial or personal (relationship problem, low self-esteem etc,) or due to a mood disorder. A lack of purpose in life also adds to a feeling of hopelessness.

In these countries however, economics has to play a major part as the economic life here has not stablized, these are new countries. The fact that in these countries 5-6 men commit suicide as compared to 1 woman (a very high ratio), proves that economic hopelessness is a major reason. Ofcourse, these are older statistics (2002-03), and now that these countries are part of the Europeon Union, life will improve and I think the suicide rates will fall.

Group 2 (a medium high suicide rate): Countries like Belgium (21), Finland (20) Switzerland (18), Austria (18] France (17.6), S. Korea (17.9) and Japan (23.8] too have a fairly high rate of suicide. It gets more complicated here. About 2-3 men here kill themselves as compared to 1 woman. As these are well-to-do countries, economics alone cannot play a part. It makes sense to think that is the personal and social aspect that causes people to kill themselves. Feelings of loneliness and depression for example. A family or personal crises. High levels of competition in society and expectations from oneself and society which are not met.

Japan, although an eastern nation, is similar to the west and the countries in its group when it comes to the proportion of men killing themselves as compared to women (many eastern societies have a higher proportion of women killing themselves, but not in Japan). Japan is a male dominated society but still, this is so. From what I have heard, Japanese men do not abandon their women (a major reason for women to commit suicide) and it is probably one of the reasons why Japanese women do not kill themselves in large numbers (like in some Asian countries). But Japanese men are under high pressure to perform, both academically and economically. There is a high level of competition in Japanese society, right from childhood. This could be a major cause of depression if one doesn’t measure up.

S. Korea is similar to Japan when it comes to the number of men committing suicide as compared to women, and it’s probably for the same reasons – high competition in society. It is interesting to note that suicide rates in this country have increased to 24.7 from its earlier 17.9 per 100.000 people and this means that S. Korea should actually be in Group 1. Suicide rates in S. Korea have increased the fastest as compared to any other country, according to a report by OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). And its acknowledged that the causes for this dramatic increase is the high level of competition in Korean society. Suicide rate is around 17 per 100,000 just amongst young South Koreans!

Group 3 (a medium suicide rate): Countries such as Denmark (13.6), Germany (13.5), China (13.9), Sweden (13.4), Australia (12.7), Canada (11.9), India (10.7), the US (11) and Singapore ( 9.5) fall somewhere in the middle where the suicide rate is concerned.

In Denmark, Germany and Sweden – about 2-3 men kill themselves as compared to one woman and this is similar to Group 2. But in countries like Australia, Canada and the US – about 3-4 men kill themselves as compared to 1 woman. Can’t seem to fathom the reason for the difference, but I feel it that more men committing suicide seems to point to financial reasons and a high level of economic competition in society. So though people in these countries are well off, there could be high pressures to perform.

China has a reverse ratio, the only country in the world where more women kill themselves than men! The rate for men is 13 (per 100,000) and that for women 14.8. Though these statistics are just for select areas (data for the whole of China is not available) it appears as if Chinese women are more miserable than their counterparts in other parts of the world. Ofcourse most societies, specially eastern societies, are male dominated, and this could be a reason for the higher rate of suicide by women. Abandonment, sexual violence, lack of growth opportunities, lack of access to health care are also reasons. In India and Singapore, the ratio is less than 2:1, with half the suicides being that of women. This does not speak well of the mental well being of the women in these countries.

Group 4 (Low suicide rate): Countries like Spain (8.2), Italy (7.1), UK (6.9), Israel (6.3), Argentina (6.4), Brazil (4.1), Thailand (4), Iran (2), Kuwait, (2) Egypt and Jordan (0) have a very low suicide rate. It appears as if the suicide rate is low or almost non existent in Muslim countries. Well, Islam forbids suicide, so it could explain the figures. But I think a zero rate of suicide is indeed odd. There are always mentally ill people in every population and a high proportion of depressed people and those who suffer from mood related disorders commit suicide. If Islam does not allow suicide it is likely that families could be hiding the actual facts.

Countries like Spain, Italy, UK, Israel, Argentina and Brazil do indeed seem happy countries if one goes by the suicide statistics. And where the difference between the men and women are concerned, here like the rest of the world, a lot more men commit suicide as compared to women (about 3-4 to 1) . In Thailand it is about 2-3 men to 1 woman.

Update 1: Just wanted to add that attempted suicide rates are usually 10-20 times higher than completed suicide rates. And more women attempt suicide than men.

Update 2: The latest (2008) suicide statistics from WHO are given here.

Update 3: An article on an Indian Psychiatry site has suggested that the suicide rate given for India not accurate and the actual rate is at least five times higher. This is thought to be so because suicide data from police records is not considered accurate as families of suicide victims usually do not want to report it as a suicide. In India there are many taboos associated with postmortems for religious reasons, and it is to avoid postmortems that people often do not report suicide. As suicide is a crime, it becomes a police case as well and this too makes families uncomfortable. The stigma attached to a police investigation is something families want to avoid. If this is true and indeed the suicide rate is five times higher, then India would fall into the high suicide rate category.

Happiness Index
Can one can safely assume that countries with the lowest suicide rates have the greatest number of happy people? Not really. Ofcourse, the dates of the suicide survey and the happiness survey differs by a few years, the happiness index was taken in 2006, the suicide survey a few years earlier. But I don’t think this makes that much of a difference. I think that the suicide rate has nothing to do with the general level of happiness. I will explain this. Again for the purpose of this analysis I am assuming that the happiness index is accurate. If there is anyone who does not believe it, either they can direct me to a more accurate one or don’t read beyond this point.

Group 1 countries (highest suicide rates) do have the fewest number of happy people. Only 2 percent of Russians are happy, and no one from Belarus or Ukraine is happy. About 10 per cent of Lithunians are happy.

But countries from Group 2, which have a fairly high suicide rate, have a high percentage of happy people! Like Belgium (86 per cent), Finland (83), Switzerland (89), Austria (81), France (84) and Japan (72). What does this mean? I think it that it means that most people who commit suicide in these countries are those who buckle under socio-cultural and relationship problems and are a small section of society. It is known that more than 80 per cent of those who commit suicide are those who suffer from mental illness, and often suffer from an inability to cope. In other words, a certain section of the population that is prone to depression and mood disorders (always in a minority) falls prey to suicide.

About countries in Group 3 (medium suicide rate), only China and India seem to fit. About half of the Chinese are happy and about 40 per cent of Indians. On the other hand an overwhelming number of people from countries such as Denmark (91 per cent), Sweden (91), Australia (90), Canada (75) and the United States (84) are happy, belying their suicide rate.

Are more people happy in countries in Group 4, with its low suicide rates? Well, there was no data from the Muslim countries, but the majority of those in the other countries seem happy. Not a high number really – 68 percent of those in Spain, 64 per cent of those in Italy, and 59 percent of those in Brazil and Argentina. Obviously, these people may not consider themselves happy, but not are certainly not depressed enough to feel like killing themselves. The U.K, which has a low suicide rate has a high number of happy people.

Being poor does not necessarily make people feel sad. In fact often it can provide people with a strong sense of purpose to try and achieve their goals. The struggle may mean that they are not happy, but they do have something to look forward to, a belief in themselves, or perhaps a sense of fatalism which makes them accept their fate.

I’ll end with a quote from this Sciencedaily article which explains what makes people happy:

A nation’s level of happiness was most closely associated with health levels (correlation of .62), followed by wealth (.52), and then provision of education (.51). The three predictor variables of health, wealth and education were also very closely associated with each other, illustrating the interdependence of these factors…people in countries with good healthcare, a higher GDP per capita, and access to education were much more likely to report being happy…

Note: Do keep in mind that the above analysis is based on statistics, which for the purpose of this article I have assumed to be true. As in all kinds of statistics, there are bound to be flaws, and so there will be with these statistics. Do keep that in mind while reading, because this analysis is based on the statistics and does not reflect my personal viewpoint.

Related Reading: Why Indians commit suicide
Some ways to help people cope with depression
The right time to see a psychiatrist
One reason for suicide – social rejection
Participation in reality shows can trigger depression and even suicide
Euthanesia may be illegal, but people want it to be made legal

175 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris Augustine permalink
    June 20, 2013 7:12 pm

    Weather!!!!! Also countries with strong belief in God. I think weather has a lot to do with it.

  2. Anthony Gbetsah permalink
    June 21, 2013 2:49 pm

    I don’t quite agree with you about low suicide or non existent in Moslem countries. If that is so what category do we place those bombers? Are they suicide or only bombers in the name of religion?

    • Sara permalink
      June 21, 2013 6:15 pm

      Anthony I am a Muslim and for sure i tell you there is no such thing as suicide bombing or killing in Islam. “So called Muslims ” who do this are not practicing Muslims they have their own dumb retarded mentalities, they are ill people who just want attention. I assure u in Islam we don’t kill others and killing yourself in any way if as forbidden as killing other people. In our holy book we are FORBIDDEN to kill others unless they try to kill us first. for example in Islam you are not allowed to kill someone until that person comes directly to you or to your country and tries to kill you. we are obligated as Muslims (and in order for us to be full and true Muslims) to respect other religions and those who oppose us in beliefs. it is written in the quran(our holy book). in the quran it says that when you kill one person(whether that person was muslim or not) it is as if you have killed every single human being on earth, and the heavens curse you. People just have such a false image about islam because they think that just cus a stupid muslim did it than his actions “are part of being muslim”… its like for example a christian murders and rapes and steals, would you ever blame Christianity for his actions?? of course no, thats silly! what he does as an individual dosent at all represent Christianity…

      • Mohamad permalink
        May 11, 2014 5:19 pm

        Also, I would like to add that its the media that propagate and promote the idea that Muslims in general are criminals, terrorist and and mass murders. Have you notice how media report any violence or cases involving Muslims? Usually they use the terms, “Islamic militants” Muslim Terrorist” Islamic suicide attack, Muslim extremist etc. where as the same media would not say, Christian terrorist in to refer any incident involving Christians or, Hindu terrorist for incident involving Hindu or Buddhist Terrorist involving Buddhist. Does this mean Only Muslims inherits terrorism? Look at what happens in Thailand and Burma? Why aren’t the call Buddhist terrorist or fundamentalist? Look at whats happening in CAR and many African Countries? Why aren’t they called Christian terrorist? Look at what happening India with full state support? Why there aren’t labelled are terrorist? The irony is that its the muslims who are the victims of all this non muslim terror. but do they get the due coverage in the media? certainly No.

      • February 19, 2015 10:17 pm

        Very well said, I couldn’t put it better myself


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