Suicide costs Switzerland billions of francs

The health authorities bear the brunt of suicide-related costs Keystone Archive

Suicide and suicide attempts are costing Switzerland almost SFr2.5 billion ($1.8 billion) a year, according to a new study.

This content was published on September 11, 2003 - 13:57

Activists are calling for a campaign to help prevent suicide in a country where three times as many people take their own lives as die in road accidents.

The study was released on Thursday by the Swiss Society for the European Convention on Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation.

It found that costs to authorities, insurance companies and hospitals totalled an estimated SFr65 million for suicides and SFr2.369 billion for suicide attempts.

Although they have recently fallen, suicide rates remain higher in Switzerland than in many other European countries.

In 1999 there were an estimated 1,350 suicides, compared with 516 road deaths.

Experts say the tally of attempted suicides could run as high as 67,000 per year.

Raising awareness

Ludwig Minelli, the Society's secretary general and head of Dignitas, one of the four organisations offering assisted suicide in Switzerland, is calling for an information campaign to raise awareness of the problem.

“If one has the possibility to prevent not only the costs but also the situation of these people, I feel we have an obligation to do it,” Minelli told swissinfo.

Minelli said that the authorities should do more and believes that a poster campaign, similar to the recent Stop Aids campaign, would help cut suicide attempts.

According to Minelli, the emphasis should be on prevention, which could be achieved by informing people that the classic means of ending a life, such as car fumes and pills, no longer work.

He also feels that there should be greater possibilities for suicidal people to talk about their problems with counsellors.

Assisted suicide

Experts say there is no single explanation for Switzerland’s higher suicide rate, which accounts for ten to 15 per cent of deaths among young men.

But the country has one of the most tolerant attitudes towards assisted suicide in Europe.

Four organisations offer assisted suicide, among them Dignitas, which also offers its services to terminally ill foreigners, and Exit.

The report’s author, Peter Holenstein, was himself director of Exit from 1997-1998.

Minelli insists the report has nothing to do with his work with Dignitas and says the most important thing is that the problem is discussed in Switzerland.

“Suicide has always been treated as a taboo and 67,000 attempted suicides are a problem that has to be discussed in society,” he said.

swissinfo, Billi Bierling and Isobel Johnson

Suicide summary

In 1999, there were an estimated 1,350 suicides, as against 516 road deaths.
Experts estimate the number of suicide attempts could be as high as 67,000.
The number of suicides in Switzerland has been declining since the 1950s, but still remains higher than in many other European countries.
The canton of Appenzell is said to have the highest rate in Switzerland.

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