After 3 months of being online, 3,274 views, 53 posts and 177 comments, Swiss readers and followers of unboricuaensuiza.com are expressing a particular feeling.
They feel the blog is an apology for Switzerland. They feel that what I have written and documented so far is all about the good things of their country. Some of them are not comfortable with the ideal picture I paint of their country. However, some of those critics have confessed to me that they had not noticed many of the virtues that I have pointed out so far, until they read them here. Others acknowledge that my comments in the blog follow the (natural) process of migration, where you first see the virtues and as time goes by, you start noticing the defects. Others are just not happy being portrayed as happy.
It is easier to write about the virtues than the defects. You have to have a deep understanding of the nature of things in your surroundings to make a sensible comment about something negative. However, for a while now, and before I started hearing the complaints of my Swiss readers, the topic of suicide in Switzerland has piqued my curiosity.
Do people look happy on the train?
Yes, I would say so.
Do folks look content in the Alpine Wanderwegs?
Yes, they do look content.
Are men and women looking anxious and depressed in the city?
Do they have problems?
Switzerland has the highest suicide rate of Western Europe and it ranks as number 16 in the world. The Appenzell cantons, famous for the delicious cheeses and naked people trekking through the Alps, are the most rural, conservative and suicide-prone. Appenzell was also the cradle of Martin Luther’s Protestant reformation back in the XVIth Century. Is there are religious connection?
Some statistics point out a trend that the so-called happiest countries are the ones with the highest suicide incidence. I am not sure about this. China and South Korea are among the top 10 in the world. Puerto Rico is the 59th and the USA is the 38th.Haiti ranks as 107th. Buthan is not in the list.
Suicide is prevalent enough in Switzerland that train conductors do special courses regarding this issue. They are trained to plug their ears and duck down under the conductor’s console to avoid hearing and seeing the suicide perpetrator being squashed under the wheels of the train. During their career, train conductors in Switzerland will experience an average of 3 people committing suicide, by standing in front of moving trains they conduct. They get special time off after such incidents. But train-suicide is not the only way Swiss citizens decide to end it all.
It is calculated that about 25% of all suicides in Switzerland are committed using firearms. I am surprised that the National Rifle Association hasn’t opened a branch here in the land of milk and money. In the USA, 57% of all suicides are committed using guns. Some 95% of gun suicides in Switzerland are committed by men, and of all men that kill themselves, about one in three use this method.
According to studies conducted by researchers at the University of Zürich, firearms were kept in 37.5% of Swiss households. Another study published in 2007 by the Geneva-based non-governmental organization Small Arms Survey estimated that there were 3.4 million firearms in private households across the country. The defense and sport ministry, on the other hand, the same year, put the figure at 2.2 million. Of this number, 535,000 were army weapons, either in the possession of current or retired soldiers, or hired out to gun clubs. Switzerland’s population is more than 7 million. Not long ago people voted on a referendum to prohibit men and women in the armed forces to keep their army-issued weapons at home. The measure was not approved. About 40% of gun suicides use army-issued weapons, while the remainder are committed with types that can be legally purchased in gun shops.
In 2007, the World Health Organization published the statistics for Switzerland. 1360 people committed suicide in 2007: 920 men, 440 women. People 45 years and older represented the highest number. There were 114 suicides in the group from 5 to 24 years old.
So, why is it that the country rated as one of the best places to live, with one of the highest standards of living, and surveyed as having the best quality of life, can have one of the highest suicide rates in the world?