Sharp decline in suicides among Finnish men
Men more willing to seek help than before – suicide remains big problem in Finland
The Finnish suicide rate has been falling in recent years. In 2010 954 people in Finland took their own lives, which is the smallest number in more than 40 years.
The worst year was 1992 when more than 1,500 suicides were recorded in Finland.
The decline has been greatest among men aged 25 to 44. In the early 1990s, more than 500 men in the age group would kill themselves in a single year. This has gone down to just 200.
Suicide is a significantly greater problem among men than among women; three out of four Finns who take their lives are men.
Mental health professionals say that one reason for the positive trend is a change in atmosphere: men are more willing to seek help than they were before.
“It used to be seen as a sign of a loser for a man to admit to being depressed or hopeless”, says Pekka Sauri, chairman of the Finnish Central Association for Mental Health.
Head Physician Timo Partonen of the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) says that it is possible that a more tolerant atmosphere makes it easier for men to talk about a need for help and to seek help.
The greater willingness of men to seek help is reflected in a study by the Central Association for Mental Health, in which the self-destructive impulses of people calling the association’s crisis hotline were noted.
About three per cent of all callers to the hotline have self-destructive thoughts, but a greater proportion of callers are now men.
The proportion of men among those using the services of the association’s crisis services has also increased, says Pirjo-Riitta Liimatainen, the head of crisis work at the Mental Health Association.
“Women seek help more frequently, but the proportion of men is gradually growing, and that is a good thing”, Liimatainen says.
Psychiatrist Antti Liikkanen believes that public awareness of depression has helped decrease the number of suicides in Finland. He refers to the so-called Neil Hardwick phenomenon, named after television, film, and theatre writer and director Neil Hardwick, whose public accounting of his bout with depression some years back raised public awareness of the phenomenon.
“Neil Hardwick spoke about his serious depression and wrote a book about it. It was the first time that someone dared take up the subject in public”, Liikanen says.
He says that Hardwick gave Finnish men the legitimate right to suffer depression and to seek help for it.
Antti Liikanen says that the number of men seeking his help is constantly increasing. In his view therapy and improved medicines have decreased the number of suicides.
Liikanen expects the number of suicides to continue to decrease in Finland.
In spite of the improvements, Finland still has a relatively high suicide rate – the sixth highest in Europe.
According to Eurostat, the highest suicide rate in Europe in 2009 was in Lithuania. In 2009 the lowest suicide rates were in Greece, Cyprus, and Italy, although some very alarming figures are emerging from crisis-stricken Greece this year.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish suicide rates decline (22.4.2009)
Depression forces young Finns to take disability pension (9.12.2008).
”Winter depression is a disorder of the internal clock” (8.12.2009)