Sometimes just a few words are enough

Often people who decide to commit suicide see no other alternative. A kind word or just listening can often help them to change their mind Keystone

The suicide rate in Switzerland, once one of the highest in the world, has fallen in the past 20 years. To mark World Suicide Prevention Day, a look at how support for those at risk can change someone’s life.

This content was published on September 10, 2017 - 10:00

Every year, more than 800,000 people worldwide commit suicide, says the World Health Organisation (WHO)External link, which is behind the Suicide Prevention Day (WSPJ)External link on September 10. This is more than those dying in wars and natural catastrophes.

In Switzerland, around 1,000 people die by suicide a year. This is far less than 20 years ago: in 1994 there were 21.5 suicides per 100,000 people. By 2014, the rate had fallen to 12.8.

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There are several reasons why the number of suicides has fallen in Switzerland, Sophie Lochet, from the organisation Stop SuicideExternal link, which is aimed at preventing suicides among young people, told

“The network of treatment and care has improved and there is now better access to therapy, for example for those suffering from psychiatric illnesses,” she said.

“There is now also better collaboration between professionals working in the sector, such as doctors and school counsellors. And people in trouble now have better access to help, thanks to the various advice centres and organisations that have been set up in the past 10-15 years.”

In need of help?

Stop SuicideExternal link offers help through its website. People can call these Swiss-wide advice lines: 143 for adultsExternal link (Die Dargebotene Hand) and 147 for young peopleExternal link (Pro Juventute). Calls are free in Switzerland.

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Other key elements have been security measures in hotspots (like bridges) and making access harder to weapons and toxic substances, added Lochet.

Fixing suicide nets under bridges has had a really positive effect. Reducing the number of firearms in circulation, which in Switzerland is linked to the reduction in army members, has not only resulted in a drop in the number of suicides by firearms, but also in suicide in general.”

But the reduction in suicides has nothing to do with the increase in assisted suicides in Switzerland, Lochet stressed.

“Here you are talking about two different groups of people. It is men who mostly tend to commit suicide, whereas women will resort to assisted suicide. The reasons for and the process of the suicide are not the same. Our association aims to avoid suicides among young people that are often impulsive and assisted suicide does not really concern them directly.”

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Suicide however, remains a taboo subject, Lochet pointed out. “But we must talk about it, because among adolescents in particular suicidal thoughts are quite frequent. Suicide is not just a personal problem, its one that affects public health and society as a whole. It’s the second cause of death among young people, so it’s important that we start to take action at school.”

Sunday’s World Suicide Prevention Day is putting the emphasis on dialogue and support, with its campaign “Take a Minute, Change a Life”. “Offering a gentle word of support and listening in a non-judgmental way can make all the difference,” the campaign website says.

“The suicide process has been interrupted at any time,” Lochet said. “Obviously, what has caused the despair cannot taken away in just one moment, but often it only needs a few words to discourage someone from committing suicide. It’s important to say to them: suicide is not a choice, but a lack of choice.”

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