Suicide prevention is a global challenge. Globally, around 800,000 people take their lives every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 2016, not counting assisted suicides, around 1,000 people in Switzerland took their own lives, a rate of 12 per 100,000, a rate comparable to the average across Europe.
To understand suicide better, a recently published survey run in 2017 asked people in Switzerland if they’d had suicidal thoughts in the last two weeks. Around 7.8% said they had.
In similar survey run in 2012, 6.4% said they’d had suicidal thoughts. The 22% average rise from 6.4% (2012) to 7.8% (2017) was roughly the same across all age groups but more pronounced among men (+29%) than women (+14%).
Groups with higher than average rates of suicidal thoughts included single parents (11.3%), the unemployed (15.3%) and those with only a high school education (12.4%). The rate among tertiary educated people was 5.4%. And the rate for foreigners (9.2%) was higher than for Swiss (7.0%).
Among those with suicidal thoughts, 47% had a serious physical condition compared to 19% of those with no suicidal thoughts.
Suicidal thoughts showed no correlation with alcohol consumption but a marked correlation with tobacco use. 27% of those with suicidal thoughts smoked compared to 18% of those without suicidal thoughts.
Other things associated with suicidal thoughts were a weak sense of control over life (69% vs 20%), feeling alone (21% vs 3%) and a sense of having weak social or community support (23% vs 9%).
Fortunately, most suicidal thoughts don’t lead to an attempt. In 2017, 0.5% of the population in Switzerland had attempted suicide in the preceding 12 months.
According to the WHO stigma and taboo surrounding mental disorders and suicide mean many people thinking of taking their own life are not seeking help. Raising community awareness and breaking down this taboo are important for making progress in preventing it. People need to feel comfortable discussing how they feel. A caring conversation with someone who understands is the first step.