Burden of suicide presented as one of the leading causes of death: Uncover facts or misrepresent statistics?

Finn Gjertsen*, Silvia Bruzzone, Clare Griffiths

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Background Suicide is a relatively rare incident. Nevertheless, parts of the literature on intentional self-harm behaviour state that suicide is one of the leading causes of death. We aimed to assess the evidence behind the statement that suicide is a leading cause of death across all ages, with reference to the methods of ranking causes of death. Methods Two sets of data were used: For the European Union (EU) we used cause specific mortality statistics from the European Statistical Office (Eurostat) for the data-year 2014, and globally and for the WHO European Region we used data from Global Health Estimates (GHE) 2015. We used different sets of rules to select mutually exclusive leading underlying causes of mortality for Europe (EU28). We also present lists with estimates of leading causes of death globally, and for the WHO European Region based on the GHE 2015. Results In 2014, 1.2% of all reported deaths in the Europe Union (EU28) were due to suicide, and 1.4% globally (2015) according to the WHO estimates. In Europe, suicide was ranked as number 11 and 15 in the two different ranking lists we used, and according to GHE-2015, suicide was ranked as the 17th leading cause globally, and number 14 in the WHO European Region. Looking at the differences by sex, suicide for males was ranked as the ninth and the tenth leading cause of death in two ranking lists for the European Union. For females, suicide was number 13 in the first and 23 in the second list, respectively. Conclusions Different cause lists and rules for ranking produce different leading causes of mortality. The quality of data can also affect the ranking. Our rankings suggested that suicide was not among the ten leading causes of death in Europe or globally. To ensure that ranking causes of death is not driven by political motives and funding considerations, standard methods and official tabulation lists should be used. The rankings do not necessarily present the causes of mortality of greatest public health importance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number010401
    JournalJournal of Global Health
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    This study was solely based on aggregate cause of death statistics for Europe and estimates from the World Health Organization, globally and the WHO European Region. All the data we used was available to the public on the internet, which means that the information was anonymous without any conditions relating to privacy considerations. Therefore, no ethical or governmental permissions were required for this study.

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2019 The Author(s) JoGH.


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