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Efforts underway to prevent teen suicide in Greenland

Too many young people see no other way out, say lawmakers
Too many of them wound up there by their own hand (Photo: Leiff Josefsen)

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Public health officials say they are prepared to launch initiatives to help Greenland reduce its suicide rate. The Danish self-governing territory has a suicide rate of 108 per 100,000 residents, ten times higher than in Denmark, and one of the highest in the world. 

The efforts will pay particular attention to preventing young people from taking their own lives. Lawmakers in Greenland and academics involved with the programme said the figures have remained unchanged for years.

They expressed concern that the country’s “youngest were dying”, and said the plan would train professionals working with children to identify individuals who may be considering suicide. 

Breaking the sad chain
Steen Lynge, Greenland’s health minister, is one of the architects of the new strategy.

“It is a large and very sad problem for Greenlandic society that we have people who see no other solution than choosing suicide,” said Lynge. “Every time someone commits suicide it affects not just the family, but the entire community.”

Lynge said the focus on young people will hopefully prevent so-called copy-cat suicides, which often occur when one young person commits suicide. Copy-cat suicides often result in waves of young people with a common affiliation, such as children attending the same school, taking their lives in relatively rapid succession.

“We need to better train staff who work with children and young people to detect problems and prevent suicides,” he said. “We also need to give the kids the tools they need to choose a different path.”

Lynge agreed with assessments that show that Greenland’s high rate of suicide among children stems from high rates of alcohol abuse among adults and child sex abuse.