Europe and Suicide




Try and grasp this statistic: the number of people who commit suicide in the EU is larger than the number of people who die in road collisions. And so you can put it in perspective: 50,000 people die from road collisions in the EU.

This has caused the EU to take notice. On June 13th, the European pact for mental health and wellbeing was signed. Several initiatives comprise their plan some of which include: raising public awareness, support for people who have attempted suicide, identifying mental health problems in school-aged children, and making accommodations that will allow older people to work during their later years.

Ironically, along with the EU’s attempt to reduce their rate of suicides, Dutch researchers and doctors have published a suicide guide, somewhat of a “how-to” for those considering suicide. This book isn’t a quick and dirty guide; the path they discuss takes months. And the guide isn’t for those who face situations that can be helped, such as those with mental illnesses. Their guide is intended more for the elderly and those who have “a serious physical disease and a longstanding wish to die.” The book is also for doctors who the authors say need help understanding how to handle cases where their patients choose to end their lives.

So suicide is a big deal in the EU. But really suicide is a big deal everywhere isn’t it? For the families who are left behind, for the friends? I certainly understand how mental illnesses can be so debilitating that the sufferers believe suicide may be the only way to end the suffering. And while I ethically oppose ending your own life, I can step outside of that belief long enough to feel empathy for those who are sick, dying, or in pain. I know that at times suicide feels like the only path that one can control in an otherwise very uncontrollable and, at times, excruciating world.

But for the record, let me say that the EU has something going for them. They have acknowledged that the suicide rates are a serious problem. In fact, a suicide rate of 1 person a year is a problem because suicides don’t just mean death for the victims. The survivors, along with coping with the heavy loss, must also deal with a lifetime of what-could-have-been’s and should-have’s; many dreams and hopes die with the victim.

Does it matter if a suicide is carefully planned and carried out over a course of time like the guide details?

I honestly don’t know. But I do know that a suicide stays with the people who remain long after the event; it’s hard to censor all the missed opportunities that play around in your head.

References

Sheldon, T. (2008). Dutch doctors publish guide to “careful suicide”. BMJ, 336(7658), 1394-1395. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a362

Watson, R. (2008). EU launches plan to tackle mental illness and reduce number of suicides. BMJ, 336(7658), 1394-1394. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a381

  • I’m guessing this is mostly Northern Europe — Germany, Holland, Scandanavia, etc. I remember reading a long time ago that one of those countries (Finland I think) had the world’s highest suicide rate.

    Religious beliefs and social taboos are less prevalent in those countries. Also (this is a huge generalization), most people in those countries are very orderly and even-tempered. I think there’s supposed to be an inverse relationship; that the less volatile and more polite a society is, the more likely they are to direct anger and aggression inward instead of outward. I read that in a James Michener novel, for whatever that’s worth.

    I’m glad the EU is acknowledging this problem and trying to get a handle on it.

  • Norman Fried

    Kelly
    I posted my reply to your article on the Britannica Blog Site. thanks for your input. Would like to hear your thoughts.

J. R. White

J. R. White is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She has over five years of experience in education and pedagogy.

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