Mental health problems remain taboo

Mental health issues remain taboo in Switzerland

Half of all Swiss suffer from psychological problems at some point in their lives and one in ten has tried to commit suicide, according to a health survey.

This content was published on March 8, 2004 - 21:04

The study also found that mental health problems are still considered taboo, with many sufferers too ashamed to seek treatment.

Peter Meyer, director of the Swiss Health Observatory - which published the research - said although the rates seemed high, they were in line with other developed nations.

What was more worrying, Meyer said, was that common disorders such as anxiety, depression, and alcohol and drug addictions were viewed with prejudice.

“A manager would not go to his colleague and say 'I have a serious alcohol problem'. And men especially won’t admit that they have anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks," Meyer told swissinfo.

"That’s seen as illegitimate, so one doesn’t speak about it."

Suffer in silence

“As for the more extreme mental disorders such as psychosis and schizophrenia, there’s a big stigma attached to them so you don’t talk about [your problem] but keep it secret,” he added.

One knock-on effect of this taboo is that many suffer in silence and only a few seek professional help.

Meyer says that many minor mental health problems and disorders could be diagnosed at an early stage of development by general practitioners (GPs).

“About half of all cases of underlying mental disorders are not detected by GPs,” said Meyer.


The sociologist believes doctors should have better training and take more time to diagnose psychological disorders.

This includes treating psychosomatic illnesses, which can induce back pain and digestive problems.

The research also looked into how mental health problems affect the economy - an area which Meyer says is very underestimated.

“Most people with mental disorders are less productive [or] they stop working and the [problem] worsens," he explained. "So it's very expensive."


Meyer is calling for a national information campaign to help raise awareness of the issue and to persuade people that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.

“It’s a very important task for the health authorities to hand out information so that people know how to act when confronted with psychological illnesses,” said Meyer.

“This is the only way we can tackle these problems early enough and ensure that preventative measures are efficient.”

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold

In brief

The study found that half the population have suffered from some sort of mental problems.

But only a few seek out professional help and are diagnosed properly.

Mental illness still remains a taboo in Swiss society.

Experts are calling for better information for both patients and doctors.

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