Day 243

In Finland a national suicide prevention project was implemented in 1986-1996 to reverse the increasing trend of suicide mortality with the aim to decrease the suicide rate by 20 per cent in ten years.

The basic principle of the project was to build national prevention activities on reliable information of the current Finnish suicide situation. In collaboration with the mass media and by arranging local events, public awareness was raised. All suicides committed during one year in Finland were scrutinized by using a psychological autopsy method, combined with a normal and legal police investigation, and a routine medico-legal examination.

The key target groups of the programme were people with depression, substance use problems, in crisis situations, those in need of psychosocial support due to physical illnesses, and people who attempted suicide. The project focused mainly on actions that directly influenced the risk factors for suicidal behaviour. Alcohol was identified as a particularly relevant risk factor for suicide in Finland, and given priority in the suicide prevention strategy. Younger generations were the main targets of the programme. Mental health, depression and suicide awareness programmes were launched in the school system. The military, which evaluates all 18-year-old men as part of the national Finnish draft, received special instructions on the identification and referral of at-risk youths. Enhancing awareness and changing negative attitudes towards suicide were also in focus. The suicide preventive programme leaders trained the media on appropriate suicide reporting, so that suicides did not receive sensational coverage that might encourage copycat suicides.

A booklet “Suicide can be prevented” was distributed throughout the country to raise awareness among physicians, those working in health and social care, teachers, police officers, church leaders and other people, who all come in regular contact with potential individual at risk for suicide. The most important advice was to take early signs of self-destructive behaviour seriously, and to always consider the possibility of suicide among people with mental disorders. Health and welfare workers were also advised to pay close attention to the well-being of patients with chronic illness or disability, who may be depressed, but do not acknowledge it.

The programme was successful in reaching its’ aims. The suicide rate in 2005 was 40 per cent lower than in 1990. The external evaluation concluded that that the implementation was successful in putting suicide prevention both on the social agenda and at large in promoting development in the chosen areas.  

In 2001, the Government of Finland developed a new public health policy which targets younger generations and aims to reduce accidental and violent death among young male adults by one-third of the level during the late 1990s, by 2015. This is being achieved through three new national programmes: “National plan for mental health and substance abuse”, “Reducing work-related disability” and  “Preventing psycho-social exclusion of young men in Finland”.

It can be done. The government needs to prioritise it, focus on the details, set clear timelines and make it a major public health issue.

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