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Suicide rate drops, but still 'too high'

Nearly 500 Norwegians committed suicide in 2002, with 362 men and 132 women opting to take their own lives. That's down 10 percent from the year before, but officials worry it's still too high.

Einfrid Halvorsen, secretary general of the organization Mental Health, told news bureau NTB Friday that the number of suicides remains nearly double that of traffic fatalities. "The number is at any rate quite high," she said.

Professor Lars Mehlum, who leads a suicide research and prevention unit at the University of Oslo, is nonetheless encouraged by the decline in suicides. The most recent statistics are the lowest since 1979.

"It confirms a trend we've seen for a few years now," he said. "The decline comes after a long period in the 1970s and 1980s when we saw an increase every year."

Suicide remains a delicate subject in Norway, and they're generally not reported in local media. When they are, it's nearly always written that the victim simply was "found dead" or that the death was "a personal tragedy." It's almost never written that the victim was believed to have committed suicide.

When former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland's own son committed suicide in the early 1990s, none of the major newspaper or broadcast channels reported it. Only years later, when the suicide proved to have political consequences and Brundtland's husband wrote about it himself, did the incident start to be publicly discussed.

There have been efforts to increase openness around suicides, with varying success. Halvorsen said she thinks suicide prevention efforts and better psychiatric health offers have contributed to the decline.

Norway's suicide statistics rank in the middle compared to other European countries'. Mehlum said several other countries, especially those in the former Eastern Europe, have higher rates, while other countries have lower rates.

Aftenposten English Web Desk
Nina Berglund/NTB