By Fleur Strobbe
The past few weeks I’ve had the privilege to experience life in one of Scandinavia’s beautiful countries, Finland. Being here on exchange has introduced me to some of the country’s local customs and the lifestyle of the Finnish medical students. Sometimes I was in awe when I spoke to the residents. The Netherlands could learn a thing or two from Finland in my opinion. A couple examples: their health care system is very well organized, their paid paternity leave is eight weeks and the students receive a generous study grant from the government. There are also things that take some getting used to. My jaw dropped when I first saw the alcohol prices and I’m not at all used to the amount of nudity the Finnish people show. Luckily, the nudity is shown only in the saunas, but the saunas are everywhere.
Finland seems to have figured out a lot of issues other countries are still struggling with, especially when it comes to taking care of their residents. The same is the case in the other Scandinavian countries; Denmark, Norway and Sweden. For example, treatment outcomes in Sweden are among the best of the world. While talking with other exchange students, a more controversial subject came up, namely the high suicide rate in Finland and other Scandinavian countries. Although this statement is mainly based on hearsay, many people around the world have heard of this issue. A lot of these people are, like I was, very surprised to hear about this high suicide rate in countries that seem the have it ‘all’ figured out. When I looked further into this matter, I discovered papers written about suicide in Scandinavia that dated from as far back as 1975. Even though the suicide rates in the Scandinavian countries are scrutinized, there was not much evidence based on the conducted research. The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a list of countries by suicide rate. Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland are respectively ranked 105th, 102nd, 46th and 35th. To compare, the Netherlands is ranked 98th. So what does this mean exactly? The answer is not that simple. The numbers are debatable as well since every country has its own rules when it comes to classifying a death as a suicide. This can account for the reported differences between the Scandinavian countries. Another explanation is given by Daly et al., whose research showed that adjusted suicide rates tend to be highest in places where the people are the happiest. Although this was based on the American population, they say it is also possible to replicate it for Europe.
All in all, it’s hard to say whether the suicide rates are truly higher in the Scandinavian countries or not. It’s all either far from evidence based or very outdated. One thing is clear though, Finland (and other parts of Scandinavia) does not have it all figured out. For example, try riding your bike in the city. The Finnish people say that the roads there are very bike-friendly. But the Dutch won’t agree with that. At least, when it comes to biking lanes, nothing tops the Netherlands.
- OECD (2013), OECD Reviews of Health Care Quality: Sweden 2013: Raising Standards, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264204799-en
- World Health Organization, 2015. Suicide rates, age standardized. – Data by country. Retrieved on August 8, 2017.
- Daly MC., Oswald AJ., Wilson D., Wu S., 2011. Dark contrasts: The paradox of high rates of suicide in happy places. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 80(3), 435-442.