It has been estimated by the World Health Organization that every 40 seconds someone commits suicide. Furthermore, it is also estimated that over one million people take their own lives per year. Based on current global trends, the number of those who commit suicide is expected to exceed one and a half million people within the next six years. An alarming trend to say the least, and one with so many different factors, yet still so few answers.
While many factors pertaining to why one contemplates and commits suicide are well established, such as mental illness and substance abuse, others, such as economic hardship, are now more firmly entering into the conversation as wholly legitimate reasons, independent of mental illness, for suicide. With the economic crisis devastating economies in the past five years, suicide rates have been on the rise with many finding themselves either so hopeless due to abject poverty, or humiliated by their inability to support themselves and their family, that they resort to taking their own lives. While many either learn to overcome the debilitating nature of these factors, cope with them, or at the very least survive with them, others simply cannot. When piling one suicide risk on top of another, the odds become even less certain of a positive long-term outcome.
Beyond the established narratives that may predispose one to suicide, there are also instances where national concerns play a role; some nations simply have higher suicide rates, while seemingly, on the surface perhaps, suffering no more or less the same hardships as other nations with significantly lower suicide rates. That Latin America, a region rife with poverty should record the lowest suicide rate in the world, while fully developed and industrialized nations in Asia should be amongst the highest, speaks volumes to the impossibility of wholly predicting suicidal trends, and effectively preventing them.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month in the United States, and suicide is one of the most tragic occurrences the world over. In light of that, here is a list of the ten countries with the highest suicide rates in the world. Presented in no way shape or form to glorify them, but simply to shed light on them in hopes that with better understanding of the problems others throughout the world face, we may more clearly and proactively recognize them in ourselves or others.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Belarus, placing the nation tenth on the list of countries with the highest suicide rates in the world. Suicide rates in Belarus have been relatively high since the last days of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, but since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., those rates have risen relatively dramatically and shaken the country into action to study just what has gone on. In particular, the rate of suicide among men has increased, with the age group most prone to taking their own lives being those falling into the 45-64 years of age category. With recent studies being conducted to determine the nature of suicides in Belarus, especially amongst working age males, researchers have found a strong correlation between alcohol and suicide in the country. In fact, the only time the suicide rate has dipped over the past 35 years was during an anti-alcohol campaign in the mid 1980s.
In Latvia the suicide rate has been decreasing since the mid-1990s when the post-Soviet Union upheaval was considerably difficult on not only Latvia, but many other former Soviet Republics as well. That said, suicide rates in Latvia are still extremely high, particularly for an EU member state, with only four other members surpassing Latvia. Commendably, the government and health organizations have done considerable research to understand and explain why more people die from suicide than traffic accidents and murders in the Baltic country. The rate of suicide is, unsurprisingly, much higher among men than women, with men most susceptible between the ages of 40 and 49. Furthermore, the most common factors leading to suicide in Latvia are alcohol consumption, unemployment and mental health, all either risk factors on their own, or in conjunction with unemployment and alcoholism.
According to statistics, nearly 4,000 people commit suicide in Sri Lanka per year, a rate of 11 per day. The 2012 suicide of 35-year-old Milton Rupes Nonis highlights the issues facing the most desperate Sri Lankans. A father of three, Nonis, like many others in the country, faced extreme poverty, unemployment and debt. Unable to provide for his family, Nonis hanged himself. His plight is not unfamiliar, and many are tragically ending their lives just as Nonis did, with the most common methods being death by poison, hanging or jumping from a height. Suicides among males, as in the rest of the countries on this list, greatly outweigh those of females, with the most common age group being males between the ages of 15 to 44. What is most disconcerting about the suicide rate in Sri Lanka is that it had continuously risen dramatically since the 1970s up from 19 suicides per 100,000 citizens to a staggering 33 suicides per 100,000 in the mid 1980s. Though the rate of suicide has dropped in the 2000s, suicide is still a major problem in Sri Lanka, one that the National Institute of Mental Health is working diligently to remedy.
A surprising entry on this list, Japan is a highly industrialized first world nation that plays an important role in the global economy and shares many characteristics with other European and North American powerhouses that have minute suicide rates in comparison. Beneath the surface however, Japan suffers from a near epidemic rate of suicide, with men comprising over 70% of those who commit the act. Many factors play into the reasons why, like economic hardship, societal pressure and depression accounting for the top three reasons. Furthermore, Japan has a very long tradition of committing honourable suicide, and as such, societal attitudes towards taking one's own life are less frowned upon than those of many other nations. In fact, when one's honour is shattered, suicide is actually deemed a “morally responsible” option, making stopping the problem, especially when economic failure and mounting societal pressures are involved, a difficult task.
In Hungary, though women are more likely to attempt suicide than men, the trend of men actually committing suicide is at a much higher rate than women, which is no different than that of other developed nations. Divorced and widowed men aged 30-60 are most prone to contemplating and ultimately acting upon taking their own lives. Another common theme concerning the problem of suicide in Hungary is the correlation alcohol consumption and unemployment play as significant risk factors. In a comprehensive study, tobacco consumption was also identified as another risk factor that could make one disposed to suicide. On the contrary, Hungary reports the prescription and use of antidepressants as a positive deterrent in suicidal patients, a notion that remains controversial in some western literature. All that said, mental health experts have identified the most prominent risk factors that contribute to suicide in Hungary and are committed to supporting the most at risk populations in order to decrease suicide mortality in the country.
The tiny former Yugoslav nation of Slovenia, with a population barely of over 2 million, experience over 400 suicides a year. Though that total has dropped from 600 at the beginning of the new millennium, with a rate of 21.8 suicides per 100,000 citizens, Slovenia still has a high enough suicide rate to make it the fifth highest in the world. It has been noted that nearly one third of all suicides in Slovenia are due to alcohol consumption, the Balkan nation continuing the trend of many Eastern European and Balkan states. Indeed, alcohol seems to be the largest risk factor for suicide in most countries on this list. Adding to the difficulty of Slovenia’s suicide rate is the fact that the shame associated with suicide has led to a long silence and lack of any real discussion on the subject until the early 2000s. In 2003, after finally opening a dialogue within the country regarding suicide and alcohol, Slovenia implemented a new alcohol law regulating where and when alcohol can be bought and established 18 as the minimum age for drinking and purchasing alcohol, among other laws. Since, alcohol consumption in Slovenia has decreased by 12% and suicide has dropped from 30 per 100,000 to 21.8. While the results are encouraging, there is still plenty of work yet to be done, but, after decades of silence, it seems Slovenia is on the right track.
Of all of the deaths by suicide in the world, over 3% occur in Kazakhstan. The most tragic suicide-related issues facing Kazakhstan is its epidemic rate of suicide amongst young people. Kazakhstan has the highest rate of suicide among young girls aged 14-19, and the second highest rate amongst boys in the same demographic. Indeed, the suicide rate amongst young people in Kazakhstan increased 23% in the new millennium. The explanation for the rising trend has been debated by experts in the Central Asian former Soviet Republic; opinions range from increased bullying and tormenting at school to the proliferation of the Internet and the information and technology that comes with it. Kazakhstan Members of Parliament have even gone so far as to blame ‘emos and punks’ for the rising problem of teen suicide. While it is clear that Kazakhstan is aware of the very tragic problem they have on their hands, and that as a nation they need to do more to quell teen suicide, it is equally clear that no one fully understands the nature, nor root, of the problem.
The Caribbean nation of Guyana has consistently ranked amongst the highest in the world for suicide rates. In Guyana men are far more likely to commit suicide, with more than half poisoning themselves by drinking pesticides such as weed killer. As in many other nations where economic hardships are an issue, according to studies, in Guyana many men turn to alcohol and engage in domestic violence when they are unable to find a sustainable living to provide for their families. Ultimately, nearly 40 Guyanese men out of 100,000 resort to suicide. Based upon findings compiled by the Guyana Foundation, a non-governmental organisation created in order to promote development within Guyana, the despair is more clearly felt in the Indo-Guyanese population than the Afro-Guyanese population, in large part due to the former's more rural nature. Because there is still little in the way of support for suicide in Guyana, particularly rurally, many suicides, predominantly committed by the middle-aged or elderly, go unreported, making the issue that much harder to combat and manage.
Admittedly a surprising entry on this list, and especially at such a high ranking, South Korea has a serious problem when it comes to suicide. What’s worse, the total of 28.1 suicides per 100,000 South Koreans in 2012 was an 11% decrease from the previous year. The most common methods of suicide were either hanging or poison, while mental duress, physical pain, economic hardship and familial problems were the leading causes, in that order. The decline is due in part to the South Korean government finally facing the issue and attempting to combat the problem with the help of the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention. But due to cultural tradition in South Korea, the problem still persists. In a culture where the younger generations are traditionally obliged to look after and care for their parents, suicide is far more of a concern amongst the older population than the younger or middle-aged, with the highest suicide rates coming in the 60 to 75-year-old and 75-and-above age brackets. Studies contest that the cultural tradition of looking after one's parents and the difficulty in obtaining and maintaining adequate employment in the modern economic climate are not reconcilable; thus the older generation is committing suicide to ease the burden on their children.
The second Baltic state on this list, Lithuania leads the world in suicide rates amongst its population. Economic issues, many that date back to the massive social upheaval of the fall of the Soviet Union and have never fully left the country. More recent economic crises, first precipitated by the Russian financial crisis in 1998 and the world financial crisis a decade later, have also contributed to Lithuania’s exorbitant rate of suicide, predominantly amongst men. Indeed the highest rates of suicide in Lithuania are amongst prime working and family-rearing men aged 35 to 54. Poverty has enveloped many in the country and with no jobs to speak of many have turned their idle time to alcoholism and crime. Add a large dose of hopelessness when looking at the stark economic outlook for many Lithuanians, and you have a tragic recipe for suicide, hence Lithuania leading the world in that regard.