Suicide and suicide prevention in Sweden
Suicide is a public health concern, and the Public Health Agency's role in preventing suicide is to coordinate efforts on a national level. We are also responsible for monitoring, and developing and disseminating knowledge to prevent suicide.
In 2021, 1,226 people died by suicide in Sweden. Of these, 873 were men and 353 women. Eleven were children under the age of 15. A further 279 cases were registered as deaths of undetermined intent, of which many could have been suicide.
Two thirds of those who died by suicide in 2021 were men. In the population aged 15 and over, the suicide rate (number of suicides per 100,000 inhabitants) was 20 for men and 8 for women. The suicide rate for men and women combined was 14.
The difference in suicide rates between women and men increases with increasing age. The highest suicide rate was among men who were 85 years or older. In this group, the suicide rate was 45, which is twice as high as among men in the younger age groups. The lowest suicide rate in 2021 was among women aged 15–29 (7 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants). On the other hand, among children and young people (under the age of 18), there are approximately as many girls as boys who die by suicide.
Since the suicide rate is calculated in relation to the size of the age groups in the population, the rate differs from the actual number of suicides. For men, the number of suicides is lowest in the oldest age group (43 deaths) and highest in the 45–64 age group (281 deaths). Looking at suicide in relation to the total number of deaths in each age group, presents yet another picture. Among young people (aged 15–29), who have a lower risk than older people of dying as a result of illness, suicide accounted for one third of all deaths. For people over the age of 65, suicide was less than one percent of all deaths.
The suicide rate in Sweden also varies significantly in relation to educational status and geographic factors. Suicide rates are higher among those with only pre-secondary education for example. Suicide rates are also higher in rural areas compared to urban areas.
Development over time
The suicide rate in Sweden was at its highest in the 1970s and has since decreased. In recent years, however, the decline has slowed. In connection with the Covid-19 pandemic, many feared that the number of suicides would increase, but in 2020 fewer suicides were registered than the year before. Although the number of suicides increased slightly in 2021, the figure is still lower than before the pandemic.
During the last 20-year period, the suicide rate has decreased in most age groups, except among young people. At the same time, the differences in the suicide rates between different age groups has decreased over time, as we can see in Figure 1. In the oldest age group (85 years and older), the suicide rate varies greatly, which is because the group consists of relatively few individuals. Single suicides can then have a large effect on the suicide rate.
Figure. Number of suicides per 100,000 persons in Sweden, presented in different age groups, for the time period 1997–2021.
Since 2015, the Public Health Agency of Sweden has been commissioned by the government to coordinate suicide prevention at a national level. Our role is to develop coordination and monitoring of suicide and suicide preventive work, as well as to develop and disseminate knowledge support to national, regional and local stakeholders.
We collaborate closely with other authorities and organizations, such as The National Board of Health and Welfare, who is responsible for producing national standards and guidelines within the fields of social services, health and medical services and patient safety. They also maintain national health data registers and official statistics such as The Swedish Cause of Death Register, where all suicides in Sweden are registered, and is updated annually (usually in June). Other agencies we work together with are the National Transport Administration, the Swedish Medical Products Agency, The Swedish Prison and Probation Service, The Swedish Migration Agency, and the Police. We also work with the National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention (NASP) at Karolinska Institutet.
- The National Board of Health and Welfare (socialstyrelsen.se)
- The National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention (ki.se)
A national strategy and EU collaboration
Sweden's suicide prevention efforts are guided by a National Action Program for Suicide Prevention, which was ratified by the parliament in 2008. In 2020, the government commissioned the Public Health Agency and the National Board of Health and Welfare, in close cooperation with 24 other authorities, to develop a new national strategy for mental health and suicide prevention. A proposal for a new strategy, with goals and indicators for follow-up, will be presented to the government at the latest on September 1, 2023.
The development of the new national strategy is being informed and supported by the Public Health Agency’s participation in the EU financed Joint Action ImpleMENTAL (JA on Implementation of Best Practices in the area of Mental Health).
This joint action is about implementing best practices in promotion and prevention in the area of mental health, where a specific part focuses on national suicide prevention strategies. It is a 3-year collaboration, and the goal is that by the end of the project period, each country will have a new or updated national strategy for suicide prevention. The EU project goes hand in hand with our work to draw up a proposal for a new national strategy for mental health and suicide prevention.
In total, 21 countries are participating in the EU collaboration, which is being coordinated from Greece. Learn more about the Joint Action:
Do you or someone you know need help?
If you or someone you know is in acute need of psychiatric help, dial the SOS emergency number in Sweden, 112. In a non-emergency situation, you can call Sweden's national health hotline 1177 for information about illnesses and about where to find your nearest healthcare centre. For more information visit 1177.se.
There is also a suicide prevention hotline providing support for those who have suicidal thoughts or have a loved one with such thoughts. You reach them at 90101 or chat or email.
Suicide prevention hotline providing (chat.mind.se) (in Swedish)