Denmark has reduced number of suicides, but more can be done to help those at risk

Denmark is one of a limited number of countries to have seen a reduced national suicide rate over the last three decades.

Denmark has reduced number of suicides, but more can be done to help those at risk
A file photo of a Danish telephone helpline centre. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The total number of people who took their own life in Denmark in 2017 was around 600, compared to an annual rate of 1,600 in 1980.

The Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention says that it is more difficult to end one’s own life than in the past.

“Everything that contains carbon monoxide has been cut back and the dangerous medicine which people had access to before has been changed to less dangerous preparations,” said Merete Nordentoft, a professor at the institute.

International journal Science on Friday highlighted Denmark in its focus on countries working to reduce suicide rates.

The country has also improved its ability to help prevent suicide through counselling, according to Nordentoft.

“Telephone helplines, suicide prevention clinics in the various (healthcare administrative) regions and a number of other targeted efforts have given people in risk zones better help,” she said.

Jeppe Kristen Toft, a director with the Livslinien (Lifeline) helpline, said the need for counselling remained high for those at risk of suicide.

“Everything suggests that it is crucial for suicide prevention that we at Livslinien are open at night as well as during the day,” Toft said.

While recognizing the trend as a positive one, Nordentoft noted that Denmark still has a high suicide rate and that it was important to continue work to reduce it.

“There’s nothing more we can do in regard to making it harder to commit suicide. That’s why we have to help at-risk people directly,” she said.

Denmark does not have a national plan of action for reducing suicide rates, in contrast to many other countries.

Toft called for such a plan to be introduced in the Nordic country.

“Even in a country as small as Denmark, not all initiatives are scaled up so they work nationally. That’s why we need to coordinate all initiatives,” he said.

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Mental health of one in five in Denmark suffered during Covid-19 pandemic

Mental health amongst the Danish population was worse in 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, than in 2019.

Mental health of one in five in Denmark suffered during Covid-19 pandemic
Photo: Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

The findings come from a study of wellbeing, health and work environments in Denmark conducted by the National Institute of Public Health (Statens Institut for Folkesundhed).

One in five people have seen their mental health deteriorate during the coronavirus crisis, the study found.

“We can see that around one fifth – 21 percent – consider their mental health during the crisis to be lower compared to before the crisis,” said professor Lau Caspar Thygesen, who led the study.

The National Institute of Public Health asked the same 5,000 people about their mental health in 2019 and in autumn 2020, when society was seeing a second round of increased coronavirus restrictions.

The next stage of the study is to see whether any particular societal groups have experienced a greater change than others.

“We can see that mental health for people with higher education levels has worsened more than for those with short educations,” Thygesen said.

“The reason for this could be that highly-education individuals may have seen a bigger impact on their everyday lives than those with lower education levels, who may have been able to work as normal to a greater extent,” he said.

The researcher also noted that a smaller group of 11 percent said their mental health had improved during the crisis. That group may have benefited from a change in routines caused by Covid-19.

Other results from the study show that 54 percent are worried that someone they know will get sick. 52 percent are concerned about infecting others, and 36 percent are worried that they themselves will get ill.

The study also found that  the proportion of people with depression-like symptoms increased slightly from 9 percent in 2019 to 11 percent in 2020.

READ ALSO: Denmark announces plan to aid wellbeing of young people hit by lockdown