Number of suicides lowest in 130 years

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The number of suicides in the Czech Republic has dropped to the lowest level since 1875, when the data were first collected. Psychologists say better health care and more effective drugs have helped bring down suicide rates. But elderly sick people are still the most endangered part of the population.

Linky důvěry, or emergency help lines are often the last resorts for people who find themselves in difficult situations and are contemplating suicide. The help they provide is also one of the reasons why the number of people who committed suicide in the Czech Republic last year dropped to around 1,400, which is the lowest figure since 1875. Dr. Barbora Wenigova is the head of the Centre for Mental Health Care Development.

“I think that the most risky group in terms of suicides are people around the age of 80 and 50. Their suicide behaviour is related to illnesses and pain. We can therefore say that if we have better health care and better medication, the number of suicides is lower.”

Other factors that influence people’s mental health, says Dr Wenigova, include employment, physical health, and economic situation. These have been, for the most part, steadily improving since the fall of communism in 1989. Also, a number of help lines, intervention centres and other institutions have been established, providing assistance to people who are in trouble. Lucie Hermánková is the director of a help line operated by the Prague Social Services Centre. She says that the ever more people call them for help.

“I would definitely not say they are decreasing because our data from this and last year point to the contrary. The increase is not dramatic, but it is obvious. Between January and September last year, around 200 or 250 people called who were contemplating suicide, while in the same period this year, there were some 250, 300 of them.”

Statistics reveal that men commit suicide more often than women. Lucie Hermánková says more women call their help line but when a man calls, the situation is usually desperate.

“If you picture a typical person very much in danger of suicide, it would be a man and he would probably be between 45 and 60 years old. He would be divorced or single; his relationship with his children would not work, and he would either be unemployed or in risk of losing his job. He could also have some debts, and he would be very probably addicted, either an alcoholic or a gambler.”

With the lowest suicide rate in history, it would seem that improved health care together with crisis prevention has made an impact. But the head of the Centre for Mental Health Care Development Barbora Wenigová says it would be a big mistake to think that the job is done.

“We can always do more. For instance, with young people the number of suicides isn’t lower for the ages between 15 and 19. So we could perhaps pay more attention to young people who have problems with relationships, more than with illnesses and pain.”