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Swiss seeking more psychiatric help

One in four people will suffer depression during their lifetime, according to some estimates

(Keystone Archive)

Growing numbers of people are suffering from psychiatric disorders, putting severe strain on Switzerland's healthcare system.

Several explanations have been put forward for the increase in visits to psychiatrists and clinics. One view is that an ageing population means more people are suffering from dementia and depression.

Others blame the lack of social services, which they say is causes more mental health problems among vulnerable people.

What is clear is that the number of people suffering from stress related disorders, psychosomatic diseases and mental illness is soaring. It is estimated that over a quarter of the population will suffer from depression once in their lifetime.

In large cities like Zurich, admissions to psychiatric clinics are up a staggering 20 per cent on last year alone. In a country that gave birth to psychology giants Carl Jung and Jean Piaget, clinics and hospitals are suddenly struggling to cope with the swelling number of patients.

Shortage of beds

"We need five to ten emergency beds almost everyday," said Daniel Hell, head of the Zurich University psychiatry clinic. "We don't have enough beds for all the patients requiring treatment."

People turning to psychiatric care suffer mainly from depression, anxiety disorders or psychotic states, substance dependency or dementia. The increase itself is fuelled by two separate phenomena, according to Hell.

"There is a real increase of mental diseases simply because people are getting older, and elderly people suffer more from dementia and depression. But there is also higher numbers of patients because of the greater acceptance of psychiatric treatment."

This explanation does not entirely satisfy other specialists, though. Teddy Hubschmid, president of the Swiss Society for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, points to fundamental changes in the way society deals with people on its outer edges.

Less support

"Personnel numbers and general resources available for social work are decreasing," he told swissinfo. "People feel they are receiving less support from the social services."

This lack of support has come at the wrong time, according to Hubschmid.

"We live in a more diverse society, but which has fewer resources. The social services' network offers less protection than in the past, so more people end up in psychiatric care."

Hubschmid points out that the overall lack of resources means that resorting to mental healthcare has its limitations, too.

"There is a revolving door phenomenon. Because of the lack of beds, we have to get patients back on the street as quickly as possible, so they often come back to us for more help."

Nobody is prepared to say the Swiss mental healthcare system is in crisis, but specialists admit there is a serious problem. "We used to have a very well-developed system, but it's not far from a breakdown now," said Hubschmid.

Patients could end up paying the bill if the situation gets any worse. "I'm concerned we will not be able to offer the same level of care as today," said Hell.

While spending more on mental health could alleviate the current situation, money is not the only solution according to Hubschmid. "Society should concentrate more on integrating people, helping them find a place," he told swissinfo.

by Sally Mules and Scott Capper


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