Suicide occurs throughout the world, affecting individuals of all nations, cultures, religions, genders and classes. In fact, statistics show that the countries with the highest suicide rates in the world are incredibly diverse. For example in 2020, among the top five are the eastern European country of Lithuania (31.9 suicides per 100k), the eastern European country of Russia (31 suicides per 100k), the south American country of Guyana (29.2 suicides per 100k), and the Asian country of South Korea (26.9 suicides per 100k). A number of other eastern European countries have high suicide rates, including Belarus (26.2 suicides per 100k), Suriname and Kazakhstan, both at around 22 suicides per 100k.
In contrast, the only western European nation with a particularly high suicide rate is Belgium, which ranks at number eleven with 20.7 suicides per 100k. However, it is worth noting that Belgium has some of the world's most liberal laws on doctor-assisted suicide, which is likely to be a factor in its statistics. Interestingly, the country of Bhutan, which is famous for measuring Gross National Happiness, an index used to measure the collective happiness and wellbeing of its population, has a moderately high suicide rate at 11.4 per 100k.
According to the World Health Organization, the suicide rate in South Korea is the 10th highest in the world. One factor in its high suicide rate is suicides among the elderly. Traditionally, children have been expected to care for their aging parents; however, because this system has largely disappeared in the twenty-first century, many elderly people commit suicide, so they do not feel like they are a financial burden on their families.
In addition to the elderly, students have higher-than-average suicide rates, at least in part because their families tend to put high levels of pressure on them to succeed academically. When they do not achieve the goals that their parents have set for them, they may feel that they have dishonored their families and commit suicide. Alcohol use, sleep deprivation, stress, and poor social relationships can put students at increased risk of suicide.
One of the most common methods of committing suicide in South Korea is poisoning via carbon monoxide. Additionally, many choose to jump off a bridge. In the capital city of Seoul, the Mapo Bridge has earned the nickname “The Bridge of Death” or “Suicide Bridge” because of how many people jump off of it.
The government of South Korea is making efforts to curb the suicide epidemic. It is striving to increase access to mental healthcare, a necessity as 90% of suicide victims in South Korea may have a diagnosable and treatable mental health condition. It is also providing education to community leaders to help prevent suicides at a local level.
Suicide in Japan
In Japan, suicide borders on a crisis level, though the government has been active in intervention to decrease the risk of suicide among vulnerable populations. It is the leading cause of death in men among the ages of 20-44 and for women among the ages of 15 to 34.
In Japanese culture, suicide, in some circumstances, has long been viewed as an honorable way to die. Consider the kamikaze pilots during World War II, whose greatest honor was to dive-bomb a plane into an Allied warship and die in the process. The practice of military suicide has been going on since at least the time of the Samurai warlords and is one factor in Japan’s high suicide rate.
Japanese men are twice as likely to commit suicide as their female counterparts, particularly after a divorce. Of special concern is suicide among men who have recently lost their jobs and are no longer able to provide for their families. They may feel that they have dishonored themselves and their families and that suicide is the honorable way out of the situation. With a high cultural tolerance for suicide, many older adults end their lives after they retire. Aokigahara Forest, at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji, is a hotspot for suicides, as hundreds of people go there each year to end their lives. Police regularly patrol the area for suicide victims and survivors.
Sweden has a very low suicide rate, but this rate can be misleading because it may not account for physician-assisted suicide, which is legal there. In 2012, Sweden only had 12 reported suicides per 100,000 people.
Historically, Sweden has had a high suicide rate, with the most suicides in the developed world during the 1960s. That may have been due, at least in part, to cultural attitudes regarding suicide and long, dark winters, particularly in the northern regions. The government responded to the crisis with social welfare and mental health services, and the numbers have dropped dramatically. Today, Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland – have very high rates of happiness and relatively low suicide rates. However, the dark winters – 20 hours of darkness or more in each day in some areas – causes seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression, which has been known to correlate with higher rates of suicide.
Euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide, is still illegal in Sweden but is accepted in some instances. A physician may not administer lethal drugs to a terminally ill patient, but he or she may end life support of the patient requests doing so and demonstrates that he or she understands the consequences. This form of physician-assisted suicide, known as passive euthanasia, is not included in suicide statistics. Active euthanasia, in which a physician administers lethal drugs to a terminally ill patient with the consent of the patient and family, may become legal in Sweden within the next few years, as it is becoming more accepted in European countries.
Suicide in China
In China, suicide is the fifth leading cause of death and accounts for over one-quarter of suicides worldwide. In contrast with many Western countries, in which men are more likely to commit suicide, most suicide victims in China are women. China’s economic boom has led to greater independence for women, who are now much more able to get divorced as a means of dealing with domestic violence. However, the strain of divorce means that they must work long hours while raising their children, often without the support of family that the culture has traditionally relied on in the past.
When women are showing the strain of their stressful lives and are admitted to a hospital for psychiatric care, they are actually likely to be discharged must sooner than their male counterparts. They feel that they need to return to their jobs and families as quickly as possible, even if they are not yet ready to do so. Additionally, many insurances do not cover hospital stays in cases of attempted suicide. These strains have exacerbated suicide among Chinese women.
People in rural parts of China are as much as five times more likely to commit suicide than people in cities. This notion may be attributed to a lack of mental healthcare, the stigma associated with mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia), poverty, and poor education. However, exact statistics are hard to come by because few to no epidemiological studies on suicide have been carried out by the Chinese government.
Most suicide attempts in China are carried out with a pesticide or other poison.