Norway Is At The Forefront of Suicide Prevention Among The Sámi In Northern Europe


Photo: Map of Sápmi, Sámi land, and approximate range and breakdown of South, “Lule”, North, and East Sámi cultural and linguistic areas

The issue of suicide among the Sámi in Norway, Sweden, and Finland is indeed a serious public health concern that has been recognized for at least the last 40-50 years.

Addressing the high suicide rate among the Sámi population in Norway is the responsibility of the Sámi Clinic (Sámi Klinihkka), a healthcare institution that focuses on suicide prevention and provides care and support to those contemplating suicide, and survivors as a result of a suicide attempt.

Following the wave of Sámi suicides that hit Karasjok in the 1980s, the Youth Psychiatric Team was created, operating under the Children and Adolescent Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic, to help substance abuse and/or suicidal adolescents and young adults aged 15 and up to 30 years old.

Since then, suicide prevention has become the focus of Sámi Klinihkka. Anne Silviken is a researcher and psychologist who has long been involved with the Sámi Norwegian National Advisory Unit on Mental Health and Substance Use (SANKS). She also holds a PhD on suicidal behavior among the Sámi people of Northern Norway.

In her opinion, it is very important to actively work to prevent suicide in Sámi-inhabited areas at the same level as in the respective nation-states. Norway, Sweden and Finland have national action plans for suicide prevention, but these plans pay little attention to the Sámi as an indigenous people.

In response to the lack of government attention to this pressing social problem, SANKS, in collaboration with the Sámi Council, launched the “Plan for Suicide Prevention Among the Sámi People in Norway, Sweden, and Finland” in 2017, says Silviken. Full text of the Plan is available here.

About 650 people commit suicide in Norway every year. According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, suicide rates are similar across the Nordic countries, with only Finland having a significantly higher rate than average.

The problem of suicide is a complex and interconnected phenomenon that requires prevention work in many ways, says Silviken.

According to the expert, “preventing racism and discrimination against the Sámi, various forms of violence and abuse at the individual and societal level will be an important measure in preventing suicide.” In essence, we are talking about creating social conditions for a safe and prosperous life in the territory inhabited by the Sámi.

There are many different institutions and organizations involved in suicide prevention in Sámi areas. The establishment of a specialized suicide prevention network by SANKS in the fall of 2022 is a significant step towards addressing the mental health challenges faced by the Sámi population. Network members meet twice a year to exchange experiences and knowledge. The aim of this activity is to involve professionals from all Sámi areas in Norway, Sweden and Finland and to establish cross-border cooperation to prevent Sámi suicide in these countries.

Source: Finnmarkssykehuset