EU's most suicidal country takes steps to improve its mental health

Lithuanian women and youth are comfortable seeking help with mental health issues, but middle-aged men, the most at risk demographic, are difficult to reach.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
EU's most suicidal country takes steps to improve its mental health - NewsMavens
Therapeutic self-help group, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Lithuania is by far the most suicidal society in the EU. To meaningfully discuss this fact, first of all ditch the offensive cliche that this is about the lack of sun. Sunny Slovenia struggles with suicide more than chilly Norway. Neither is it about poverty. Rich Luxembourg has a higher rate of suicide than struggling Bulgaria. As Lithuanian experts point out in this week's analysis in 15min, it has much more to do with suicide acceptance in the society, accessibility of mental health services, and gender roles.

In 2013, a famous Lithuanian actor killed himself and the country's suicide rate increased. This was the year when the issue became too big to ignore in big politics, and the increased attention seems to have worked. The absolute number of suicides has dropped to its lowest number since the country regained independence in 1990. Men are five times more likely than women to commit suicide, so municipalities are developing rapid intervention algorithms to address this trend. Just like with alcohol abuse, suicide is an expression of despair.

Various projects help the staff of various institutions react to potential suicide  threats and coordinate their actions, and the increased awareness is bearing fruit. Some municipalities have lowered suicide rates considerably. To see what approaches have worked, 15min is embarking on a series of reports to study how prevention has worked locally.

--If you feel that you or someone you know needs help, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

Details from the story:

  • People in the countryside are twice as likely to commit suicide as the urban population.
  • As of 2016, suicide is the second most common reason for mortality in men aged 15-64.
  • According to experts, suicide rates are influenced by accessibility of healthcare services, stigmatisation of mental health issues, easy access to lethal objects, and flawed reporting on suicide in the media.
  • Statistically, Lithuania's suicide rate started climbing when the country was annexed by the USSR after WW2 and kept rising steeply until Perestroika. A hopeful period of national revival sliced suicide rates, but they recovered and exceeded Soviet levels during the turbulent 1990s -- only to dip again when Lithuania joined the EU. There was again a sudden spike in 2013, when a famous actor killed himself.
  • In six Lithuanian cities, family members of individuals who have committed suicide have access to self-help groups. Experts have observed that having a close family member committ suicide increases the risk of self-harm.
  • Women are much more likely to seek help if they start feeling suicidal. Meanwhile, men are usually signed up for their first consultation by their partners or other family members.
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