Background: There are an estimated one million completed suicides per year worldwide. As a response to increasing concern about suicide within Europe, the EUROSAVE (European Review of Suicide and Violence Epidemiology) study was undertaken to examine recent trends in the epidemiology of suicide and self-inflicted injury mortality in the European Union (EU).
Methods: Suicide and self-inflicted injury mortality data for the 15 EU countries for the years 1984-1998 were obtained from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Statistical Office of the European Commission (EUROSTAT) and national statistical agencies. Data were also obtained for a second group of deaths classified as 'undetermined' or 'other violence'. Age-standardized mortality rates were calculated and examined for trends over time.
Results: Finland had the highest suicide rate, while Greece had the lowest for the latest available year (1997). Age-standardized suicide rates tended to be lowest in the Mediterranean countries. Significant downward linear time trends in suicide mortality were observed in most countries, although rates varied markedly between countries. Both Ireland and Spain displayed significant upward linear trends in suicide mortality. Portugal had the highest rate of undetermined deaths both in 1984 and 1998 while Greece had the lowest in both 1984 and 1997. Five countries (including Ireland and Spain) showed significant downward trends in deaths due to undetermined causes whereas Belgium and Germany showed borderline significant upward linear trends in deaths due to undetermined causes.
Conclusions: Although suicide rates in most countries seem to be decreasing, the validity of the data is uncertain. Misclassification may contribute to the geographical and temporal variation in suicide rates in some EU countries but it does not explain the phenomenon. More detailed research comparing suicide-recording procedures and practices across the EU is required. In the absence of adequate EU wide data on suicide epidemiology, effective prevention of this distressing phenomenon is likely to remain elusive.