The country with the world’s highest suicide rate

My last few posts have focused on South Korean suicides. Which brings me to the question: are South Koreans the most suicide-prone people on Earth?

Answer: not even close.

It’s Lithuania.

Now at first glance, Lithuanians seem to be better off than many other countries.

Check out these social indicators:
- As of 2004, Lithuanian life expectancy: 69 years for males and 79 for females.
- As of 2008 The infant mortality rate was 5.9 per 1,000 births.
- Less than 2% of the population live beneath the poverty line
- Unemployment rate is low: only 2.9%
- Adult literacy rate: 99.6%
- Lithuania has one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union.
- Relatively speaking, by UN classification, it has a high average income.
- It has a modern infrastructure of railways, airports and four lane highways.

Despite that, Lithuania has the world’s highest suicide rate, at 40.2 per 100,000 persons, according to WHO statistics as of 2008. Second placed Belarus is a quite distant 35.1.

South Korea is ranked 8th, at 26.1 (2005 statistics).

The most suicidal are middle-aged men in rural areas, where among men aged 45 to 54 years the rate is 154.6. Most common method is hanging.

However, suicidal tendencies seem to permeate Lithuanian society. A study done by Nida Zemaitiene and Apolinaras Zaborskis published in 2005 studied suicidal tendencies among Lithuanian schoolchildren aged 11, 13 and 15 and found that one third of them had suicidal ideation, plans or attempts to commit suicide. That is a big number. Even more worryingly, the study found that “an increasing number of schoolchildren are expressing an agreeable attitude towards suicide.”

Apparently, suicides are so common in Lithuania that more people kill themselves there every day (between 4 and 5 persons) than die in traffic accidents.

It has not always been this way. Before World War II, the rates were far lower.

Factors that could have played a part in the increase include:
- decades of Soviet domination
- a dramatic transition period from Communism to Capitalism, with little psychological support.
- amount of media coverage given to suicides. Apparently between 1991-4, media coverage of suicides, with all the gory details, jumped 20-fold
- a certain perceived helplessness toward all of the above.
- absence of a national suicide prevention strategy
- lack of in-depth research into the problem of suicide.
- radical reforms in society starting a “crisis in values”
- growing economic unease
- increasing psychological and social insecurity
- lax alcohol policies: public displays drunkenness quite common.
- a Gallup International poll showed that Lithuanians were the most pessimistic people among 62 nations polled.

Suicidal tendencies and attitude towards freedom to choose suicide among Lithuanian schoolchildren: results from three cross-sectional studies in 1994, 1998, and 2002 (2005), Nida Zemaitiene and Apolinaras Zaborskis, Institute for Biomedical Research, Kaunas University of Medicine, 4, Eiveniu str., Kaunas, LT-50009, Lithuania
Suicide in Lithuania

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