Suicide in Greenland

Suicide in Greenland is a significant national social issue. Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world: reports between 1985 and 2012 showed that an average of 83 people in 100,000 committed suicide, more than twice the rate of the second placed country, Lithuania.[1]

Greenland is a geographically and culturally isolated nation, as well as one of the coldest and least populous countries in the world. Although facts like these may contribute to suicide-related issues, it is not clear if they have direct influences on Greenlandic suicides. Furthermore, different initiatives have been taken to reduce the suicide rate in the country, such as roadside posters,[2] and a national suicide prevention strategy involving courses, education, local communities and professionals (such as teachers, social workers and doctors) has been initiated.[3]


The number of suicides in Greenland began to rise in the 1970s; it kept increasing until 1986. In 1986, suicide was the leading cause of death in several towns, such as Sarfannguit.[2] In 1970, the rate of suicide in Greenland was historically very low, but by 1990–1994, it had become one of the highest in the world with 107 per 100,000 persons committing suicide per year.[4] A similar relatively fast rise to a very high suicide rate has been observed among the Inuit in Canada.[5][6] Greenland Government data reported in 2010 suggest that almost one suicide occurred a week.[7]

Methods of suicide in Greenland (based on a study of 1286 cases)

  Hanging (46%)
  Shooting (37%)
  Jumping from heights (2%)
  Cutting with sharp objects (1%)
  Drowning (4%)
  Poisoning (5%)
  Unspecified (1%)
  Other (4%)

Incidence and variance

An article published in the journal BMC Psychiatry in 2009 reported that a total of 1,351 suicides took place in Greenland during the study period of 35 years (1968–2002). In the study, significant seasonal variation of the suicide rate was noted, characterized by peaks in June and troughs in the winter.[4] The clustering of suicides in summer months was more pronounced in areas north of the Arctic Circle.[4] Regional variations are also observed; suicide rates in northern parts of west Greenland are higher than in southern parts.[8]

Suicide rates are higher for men than women. Most of the people dying by suicide are young men between the ages of 15-24. Unlike in other Western countries, the suicide rate in Greenland decreases with age.[8]


Several reasons are blamed for Greenland's high rate of suicide, including alcoholism, depression, poverty, conflict-ridden relationship with spouse, dysfunctional parental homes, etc. According to a report published in 2009, the suicide rate in Greenland increases during the summer. Researchers have blamed insomnia caused by incessant daylight.[9]

Culture clash between the traditional Inuit culture and modern Western culture is also assumed to be a contributing factor.[10]

Common methods

Violent methods were used in 95% of suicide deaths.[4] The most common methods were hanging (46%) and shooting (37%);[4] other methods, such as jumping from heights, cutting with sharp objects, drowning, overdose of medication, and poisoning were also used, but less frequently.[8]

Suicide prevention

Greenland's government and international and national organizations have undertaken efforts and initiatives to prevent suicides. There are associations that provide support for people who feel suicidal. Measures include posters placed along the roads, which read: "The call is free. No one is alone. Don't be alone with your dark thoughts. Call."[2][4] Suicide consultants show films discouraging teenage suicide attempts.[7] The first national suicide prevention strategy was initiated in 2005, followed by another in 2013 that involves courses, education, local communities and professionals (such as teachers, social workers and doctors).[3] It also highlighted a number of places where further studies are needed.[3]

See also


  1. Unless otherwise stated all statistics are from WHO: "Suicide rates per 100,000 by country, year and sex (Table)". World Health Organization. 2011. Archived from the original on 2012-01-22. Retrieved 2012-01-26.
  2. 1 2 3 "The Suicide Capital of the World". Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 Departementet for Sundhed og Infrastruktur (2013), National strategi for selvmordsforebyggelse i Grønland 2013-2019 (National Strategy for suicide prevention in Greenland 2013-2019) (PDF), Naalakkersuisut (Government of Greenland)
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Björkstén, K. S.; Kripke, D. F.; Bjerregaard, P. (2009). "Accentuation of suicides but not homicides with rising latitudes of Greenland in the sunny months". BMC Psychiatry. 9: 20. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-9-20. PMC 2685778. PMID 19422728.
  5. Harding, Katherine (16 July 2007), Nunavut reeling from soaring suicide rate; Territory's leaders are in denial and government efforts to address the crisis are weak, expert says, Iqaluit, Nunavut: The Globe and Mail
  6. Hicks, Jack (2007), "The social determinants of elevated rates of suicide among Inuit youth" (PDF), Indigenous Affairs, 4, 07: 30–37
  7. 1 2 "Singing to end teen suicide in Greenland". 7 December 2010. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
  8. 1 2 3 Markus J. Leineweber. "Modernization and Mental Health: Suicide among the Inuit in Greenland". Retrieved March 16, 2013.
  9. "Greenland's Constant Summer Sunlight Linked To Summer Suicide Spike". Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  10. Nils Retterstøl (1993). Suicide. Cambridge University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-521-42099-0. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
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