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Pleas for help in tackling youth suicide

Charities are urging the government to confront the taboo surrounding youth suicide (newtreatments.org) Mental illness is taking its toll on the taxpayer (www.newtreatments.org)

Mental health organisations in Switzerland are urging the government to do more to help prevent suicide among young people.

This content was published on October 12, 2003 - 18:14

Switzerland has one of the highest youth suicide rates in Europe, with recent figures suggesting that around 1,000 children or adolescents attempt to kill themselves each year.

About one in ten suicide attempts actually succeeds.

With suicide the leading cause of death among 20 to 24-year-olds in Switzerland, mental health societies say not enough is being done to address the problem.

They are calling for a nationwide campaign to raise awareness, similar to past campaigns on Aids and accident prevention.

“Government health policies virtually ignore the issue of suicide by young people – the subject is taboo,” said Jost Gross, president of Pro Mente Sana.

The calls for action come ahead of World Mental Health Day – which this year focuses on the emotional problems of children and adolescents - on Friday.

Inadequate care

Mental health groups are also urging better psychiatric care, which they claim is inadequate for young Swiss.

“The issue of suicide is very different for young people than for older people,” said Maja Perret, head of the suicide prevention unit at the Geneva University hospital.

“We need to intervene more because many young people do not believe that they have any other choice but to commit suicide.”

Perret adds that the government should coordinate the efforts of cantons on a federal level to help prevent suicides.

She argues that coordination with other countries could help mental health care specialists better handle problems, such as depression, that their young patients face.

As an example, Perret suggests that the government call together mental health professionals from other countries to help draw up guidelines for dealing with children and adolescents admitted to hospital.

“These guidelines exist internationally but are not being implemented in Swiss hospitals. The government could call a meeting of global experts and come up with guidelines appropriate for Switzerland,” she said.

Causes

As for the causes for the high suicide rate in Switzerland, mental health organisations blame depression, substance abuse, and family problems.

Depression is considered one of the main causes. Young people who suffer from depression have a 25 times higher risk of attempting suicide than those who are not depressed.

“Depression is an important element, but a combination of factors brings about mental instability in young people.”

For their part, mental health groups plan to join forces with church groups, charities and the Swiss Red Cross in December to set up an organisation devoted to the problem of suicide in Switzerland.

swissinfo, Karin Kamp

Key facts

About 1,500 Swiss commit suicide annually.
100 of these are children and adolescents.
About 15,000-20,000 people attempt suicide each year.
It is the leading cause of death amongst young people aged 20-24.

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