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Mental health Report highlights depression gulf between Swiss language regions

A stress echocardiography is carried out to determine why a patient suffered a breakdown. Photo taken at the Ospidal Val Muestair hospital in Santa Maria in canton Graubünden in 2012


French and Italian-speaking residents report suffering from depression at a rate almost double that of German-speakers, according to a Swiss newspaper citing the most recent federal health statistics. 

According to a report by Le Matin Dimanche, French and Italian-speakers suffer from much higher rates of depression (8.9% of the population) than German speakers (5.5%). 

The report, which is based on statistics from the most recent Swiss health survey in 2012, said the highest rate was recorded in canton Vaud (10.1%) versus 1.6% in canton Uri in central Switzerland. The alpine nation has a population of 8.3 million. 

The contrast between French/Italian-speaking and German-speaking women was even more stark: 10.9% versus 5.7%. Around 7% of people in towns and cities were said to be depressed, compared to 5.4% in rural areas. 

No federal reports exist to explain these differences. The Le Matin Dimanche report suggests that the variations are caused by greater urbanisation, higher unemployment rates, and a greater willingness to discuss the taboo mental health issue in French and Italian-speaking regions. 

According to the Federal Statistical Office, French- and Italian-speakers visit doctors more often than German-speakers (8% of the population visited five or more times in 2012 versus 6.3%). 

Erich Seifritz, chief physician at the Psychiatric University Hospital in Zurich, told the paper that the high concentration of psychiatrists in French- and Italian-speaking regions did not explain the variation: "It is possible that regional attitudes to mental illness may be different.” 

He added that taboos around depression in German-speaking regions "prevent many people from asking for help”, which means many people do not get proper treatment. 

The report said a study cited in BMC Medicine magazine in 2011 showed that France was the European country with the highest rates of depression (21%). The figure for neighbouring Germany was 9.9%.

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