Each year, researchers at the National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental Ill-Health (NASP) at Karolinska Institutet (KI) take a close look at the suicide statistics from Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare. This year, they found a worrying trend. Suicide amongst 15 to 24-year-olds has increased since the 1990s.
Although the figures don’t show a massive change, there is nonetheless cause for concern.
“If there is an increasing trend, it is an important signal that things are developing in the wrong direction,” KI researcher Gergö Hadlaczky said.
“We now have enough data to analyze trends and we’ve found a small but significant increase among young people's suicides from around 1994 to 2017. The increase is just under one percent per year,” Hadlaczky continued.
Although one percent per year may not sound like a big jump, he called the increase “serious”.
Going the wrong way
The number of suicides in Sweden fell sharply in the late 1980s and 1990s but after 2000, the decrease levelled off within the general population and stop declining altogether amongst younger people. For several years in the 2000s, the youth suicide rate held constant but the trend now appears to be heading in the wrong direction.
“It is very difficult to determine a trend but we have done three different analyses and we feel convinced,” Hadlaczky said.
The researcher said that it hadn’t been possible to determine a definitive trend until the volume of data reached a sufficient point this year.
Researchers said they could not yet pinpoint the reasons behind the increasing youth suicide numbers, as there has not yet been a study conducted to look at the possible explanations for the increase.
“We have no current plans for a larger study but now I think there is ample reason to apply for funds to investigate why we are seeing this increase,” Hadlaczky said.
In 2017, 1,544 people took their own lives in Sweden. Of those, 1,063 were men while 541 were women. There were 149 suicides amongst the 15 to 24 age group and eight children under the age of 14 took their own lives.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among men aged 15 to 44 in Sweden.
The charity group Suicide Zero has tried to push the Swedish government into committing more resources to suicide prevention. In an opinion piece published in Dagens Nyheter last year, the group pointed out that the roughly 1,500 people who take their own lives in Sweden each year is around six times higher than the number of people who die in traffic accidents but suicide prevention research only receives around three million kronor ($368,700) in state finances each year, while traffic safety research receives between 100 and 150 million kronor ($12.2-18.4 million) from the state.
“If suicide prevention work is to be effective, it is necessary to have a plan and allocate resources in all municipalities as well as county councils nationally,” Suicide Zero's general secretary Alfred Skogberg and coordinator Lotta Ekdahl wrote.