In 1995 1,783 Swedes took their own lives. Ten years later the figure had declined to 1,451, a drop of 18 percent.
Over the same period the use of anti-depressant medication increased dramatically among the Swedish adult population.
“This should be taken into consideration in the development of national guidelines for the treatment of depression,” said Göran Isacsson, one of the researchers responsible for the study at the psychiatric clinic at Karolinska University Hospital, to medical journal Läkartidningen.
The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) wants to see the use of conversational therapy as the initial treatment for patients suffering from depression.
The board argues that medicine should not be used in the first instance as studies indicate that conversational therapy works just as well.
The board’s final recommendations will be presented in the beginning of 2010.
Sweden has regularly been rumoured to have the highest rate of suicide in Europe – but World Health Organization statistics from 2003 show conclusively that this belief remains nothing but an urban myth.
Lithuania in fact carries the distinction with a rate of 75.6/100,000 for men and 16.1/100,000 for women.
Sweden has 19.7/100,000 for men and 8.0/100,000 for women.
France, New Zealand, Australia and Germany, among others, all have higher rates of suicide than Sweden, which comes in only slightly higher than the USA and Canada.
“The myth of Swedish suicide” has its roots in the late 1950s and a speech given by the then US President Dwight D. Eisenhower which had been based on an inaccurate briefing.
The President’s speech was intended to paint a negative picture of Sweden, then a country advocating a brand of third-way cradle-to-the-grave socialism and adopting a stance of post-war neutrality outside NATO and US influence.
Since Eisenhower’s speech many people have accepted the picture as fact and thus helped to perpetuate the myth.