When the Netherlands comes up in conversation, the topics often turn to windmills, canals, and the famous Dutch city of Amsterdam. What doesn’t come up as often is suicide, and that, in of itself, is surprising. Last year 1,894 people committed suicide in the Netherlands - a rate of around 11 per 100,000 people. In 2015, the country reported its highest rate in suicide ever - leaving many to wonder, why?
The easy answer is that euthanasia is legal, or at least it has been since 2002. In other words, patients can ask their doctors for assistance committing suicide in a safe and effective matter. Patients that are terminally ill or suffering can request euthanasia, although being terminally ill is not a prerequisite. In the Netherlands, euthanasia accounts for 4.5 percent of all deaths. Euthanasia is also legal in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and six US states.
Some claim that the ease and normalcy of euthanasia in society means that more people will ask for it. When it becomes okay to ask to end your life, the stigma might fade. This does not however, change the high rate of suicide in the country. So, why the Netherlands? The country does not have any particular problem with its healthcare system nor is it under an autocratic regime where many people’s rights are withheld.
The answer might be depression. Researchers have calculated that in the Netherlands, depression makes up for a high share of “years lived with disability” (YLDs) - nearly 16 percent. This is somewhat surprisingly high for the country who rates as the “fourth happiest country in the world” on the Global Happiness scale.
Suicide doesn’t necessarily have a clear-cut answer. One of the hardest things left over when loved ones are faced with a friend or a family member who has committed suicide is the question: why? The only person that can answer that is no longer with you. We can’t make any clear assumptions about why the suicide rate in the Netherlands is so high. Superficial assumptions like the weather and the grey weather might have merit. But in the end - high suicide rates might mean that there is something culturally unique about the Netherlands - or that nothing is unique at all and that suicide rates vary on an uncountable number of factors.
But don’t let that stop you from appreciating Dutch history, beautiful art and incredible strides towards a greener economy. The country may be small and contain a large percentage of suicides, but it still hosts a wide section of world culture and history that cannot be matched.
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