Suicide rates in the modern world

For my build week project, I decided to look at the suicide rate in a group of countries to try find the link with economic prosperity. The world has seen rapid economic development in the past 35 years. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures the output of a country’s economy. From 1985–2016, per capita GDPs have exploded worldwide.

The world economy is becoming more and more productive.

While the economic growth of a nation disproportionately affects the wealthy and those with agency, a nation’s population as a whole benefits from a growing economy. Job opportunities improve and new technologies/services make arduous tasks easier to perform.

Economic growth is an overall positive, but it should not be seen as a panacea. A nation must not conflate improved productivity with a happier population. Suicide is a globally-pervasive, complex problem that requires societies to look inward for solutions.

While the world suicide rate has trended down since 1985, it hasn’t done so at a rate commensurate with economic growth. Since 1985, suicides per 100,000 and and GDP per capita have a correlation coefficient of roughly -.56. This correlation coefficient suggests that suicide rates tend to be higher in countries with lower GDPs per capita. However, this correlation does not suggest that higher GDPs per capita lowers a nation’s suicide rate.

Overall the global suicide rate has been falling since the mid-nineties, but not at the same rate the world economies have been growing.

Nations with the highest suicide rates are not necessarily the poorest and countries with near-zero suicide rates are not the most prosperous.

In the graphic above, you’ll notice that many European countries are towards the high end and several Eastern Mediterranean countries are towards the bottom. Overall, economically prosperous countries tend to have lower suicides rates, but that’s only a small part of the equation.

When looking at global suicide patterns, two observations are obvious. Men are more likely to kill themselves than women and older people are more likely to kill themselves than younger people. Men are significantly more likely to kill themselves in every age group below.

While men are more likely to commit suicide than women worldwide and in the US, American women are actually more likely to attempt suicide than American men. This gap can best be explained by the methods men and women tend to use to attempt suicide. Men are more likely to use firearms or to hang themselves, whereas women tend to try less violent methods. Suicide is a problem, in and of itself, but it is also a symptom of larger mental health issues that affect women as much as, if not more than, men.

The world’s population as a whole is ageing. This can be explained by falling birthrates in much of the developed world and increased life expectancy. This factor is something to consider when examining suicide rates in the future. When looking at future suicide rates, it will important to break down the rates by age group. In the future we may see an increase in suicides, but that could be just be a result of an older population. Countries with older populations should pay special attention.

Conclusion

From 1985–2016, the world saw a huge increase in per capita GDP. While the suicide rate has been trending down since the mid-nineties, this is not true everywhere. The United States’ suicide rate has increased 13 years in a row. Suicide is the tenth most common cause of the death in the United States, more common than homicide and traffic deaths. Suicide is simultaneously a global issue and a local issue. It appears that people living in countries with better economies are less likely to kill themselves, but lowering the suicide rate significantly will require more than just economic growth.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store