The results of a recent report by Switzerland’s Federal statistical Office reveal big differences in reported depression rates across Switzerland.
The data, published by Le Matin over the weekend, show that almost 9% of those in French- and Italian-speaking Switzerland suffer from depression, compared to 5.5% in the Swiss-German-speaking part. The regional difference for women is even higher: 10.9% versus 5.7%.
Psychiatric expert, professor Martin Preisig, who works at CHUV, a hospital in Lausanne, and who spoke to the newspaper Le Matin, thinks urbanization might explain the difference. Those in cities are more likely to suffer from loneliness and stress, two factors associated with depression. 7% of city residents suffer from depression compared to 5.4% of those living outside cities.
Research shows the health inducing effects of nature over an urban environment. Researchers at Stanford University found those who had walked in nature had less activity in parts of the brain associated with depressive thoughts. The same research found looking at nature restored the brain. Going for the same walk in an urban environment didn’t have the same effect.
However, this might not explain much of the regional difference. For example, Zurich has more urbanites than Vaud but a far lower rate of depression. The percentage suffering from depression in the canton of Zurich was 6.2% compared to 10.1% in Vaud. In 2015, 90% of Vaud’s population was urban. In Zurich the figure was higher at 99%.
Professor Erich Seifritz, a psychiatric expert at Zurich university, told Swiss broadcaster RTS that he thinks regional differences could be explained by differences in mental health awareness. According to him, the tabou around speaking about depression is greater in German-speaking Switzerland. This could be preventing people coming forward to get help.
Another possible contributor to the regional difference is the higher rates of unemployment in French-speaking cantons – unemployed people are more likely to suffer from depression. The latest figure for Vaud is 4.3% compared to 3.3% in Zurich. Unemployment rates in French-speaking Neuchâtel (5.1%) and Geneva (5.2%) are even higher.
Cultural differences are again revealed in a study attempting to explain persistent differences in unemployment between Switzerland’s German and French speakers. The research suggests German speakers have a greater cultural aversion to being labelled unemployed. Maybe this is analogous to the tabou around speaking about depression.
It is likely there are other reasons too.