MIELI ry's helpline callers are facing increasingly severe situations, with more people dialing 112. While the number of suicides in Finland has halved since the economic downturn in the 1990s, the country still has the highest suicide rate in the Nordic region, with approximately 750 suicides annually.
Suicidal thoughts have become more prevalent, as evidenced by the extensive "Terve Suomi" population study conducted by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) in 2023.
Currently, services are struggling to meet the demand for help.
This is reflected in MIELI ry, where the Crisis Helpline, Solmu Chat, and Sekasin Chat have experienced more contacts with emergency services this year. This means that more callers are at immediate risk of self-harm, and their situations are increasingly critical.
While the number of self-harming contacts at the Crisis Helpline has been on the rise for the past decade, there was a significant increase during the pandemic.
Self-harming individuals are often directed home with medication to seek help. This is evident from THL's study published last year and MIELI ry's monitoring conducted in June and July 2023 regarding callers' experiences with public services.
According to THL's research, nearly half of those who died by suicide had visited a healthcare facility in the last week. On the day of their suicide, one in five had been at a healthcare appointment. MIELI ry's monitoring shows that self-harming individuals sought help from the public sector but were sent home from emergency services, psychiatric outpatient clinics, and health centers.
Sanna Vesikansa, Director of MIELI ry's Crisis Center, is deeply concerned about the situation. She emphasizes that it is not enough to include suicide prevention in the national mental health strategy; concrete resources must be allocated, and it must be reflected in local government programs, in addition to the national government program.
"Regional health authorities have the responsibility to provide sufficient care for those at risk of suicide. Actions are needed to ensure that those at risk of suicide and their families receive prompt support in difficult situations. Every healthcare professional should receive training in suicide prevention and addressing suicidal thoughts," Vesikansa states.
The decrease in suicide rates since the 1990s has been significant but is at risk of stalling due to increased stress and overwhelmed services. In recent years, suicides among women have become more common.
"The treatment of self-harm poses two challenges: the failure to identify or address suicide risk, and even if treatment progresses properly, there is often insufficient follow-up care available," says Marena Kukkonen, Head of the Suicide Prevention Center at MIELI ry.
The number of psychiatric hospital beds has decreased by 41% over the last five years, and the length of inpatient care has shortened. It is crucial to increase outpatient care, which, in many cases, would be an effective solution.
"While the primary concern is for those at risk of self-harm and their families, healthcare professionals are also in an extremely difficult position when there is no place to refer individuals in acute danger," Kukkonen adds.
In 2021, 747 people died by suicide in Finland. Figures for 2022 will be confirmed at the end of this year, but preliminary data from THL in July suggests that the total number of suicide deaths has remained at the previous year's level. Each year, more than three times as many people die by suicide in Finland as in road traffic accidents. Finland also ranks high in suicide statistics within the EU, only trailing Lithuania, Slovenia, Hungary, Belgium, and Estonia.
International Suicide Prevention Day is observed on September 10th. The goal of the day is to increase knowledge about suicide, disseminate information, and reduce the stigma associated with suicide. Above all, the day aims to convey the message that suicides can be prevented, help is available for those with suicidal thoughts, and talking about suicide can be done safely. Each of us can ask the question that can save a life, #howareyou.
Whenever possible, we kindly request that any articles or programs share information about where help can be found:
- The Crisis Helpline is available in Finnish 24/7 at 09 2525 0111.
- Crisis centers throughout Finland provide face-to-face, remote, and group counseling for free and without a referral.
- Online counseling is available through the Solmu Chat and Sekasin Chat, designed for young people.
- The Suicide Prevention Centers in Helsinki and Kuopio provide assistance for those who have attempted suicide and their loved ones.