Youth caught in mental health welfare trap

There were more than 1,500 new cases of young adults qualifying for disability benefits in 2004

Mental health problems are driving increasing numbers of young people towards a lifestyle dependent on state benefits.

This content was published on March 22, 2006 - 09:00

This trend comes as parliament debates a draft revision law for the beleaguered disability benefit scheme, which posted a deficit of SFr1.7 billion ($1.31 billion) last year.

Between 2000 and 2004, the number of 18 and 19 year olds receiving disability welfare payments for psychiatric reasons increased by 40 per cent.

The latest figures come from analysis carried out by the Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO). In 2004, there were 1,525 new cases of 18 to 30 year olds qualifying for benefits on the basis of a psychiatric illness.

A poor solution

This worries Alard Du Bois-Reymond, head of the FSIO invalidity benefit division, on two fronts.

"First of all for the insurance scheme itself. These young people are likely to remain a long time on benefit, which means it will become very expensive," he told swissinfo.

"But what concerns me more is that this is not a good solution for the people concerned. To spend one's life on benefit is not a good outlook," he added.

Zurich-based youth psychologist Allan Guggenbühl believes the problem lies in the lack of opportunities for young people who, for reasons of ability or attitude, do not fit into the model of achievement through more studying and training.

"At the same time it has become more acceptable, especially among adolescents, to get benefit or have a psychiatric diagnosis. Somehow it has become more common among parents, teachers, psychologists and social workers."

A major contributory factor to the financial woes of the federal disability benefit scheme is the increasing number of claimants suffering from psychological disorders and work-related stress.


The government has proposed measures to help re-integrate claimants into the jobs market. Although Du Bois-Reymond says close cooperation with employers is essential, a quota system has been rejected by parliamentarians.

The FSIO has already begun to increase its efforts to provide help for claimants to return to work. "This year we increased the number of staff who help place claimants in jobs from 40 to 200."

Guggenbühl argues that life and work are often hazardous, with dangers and challenges that are difficult to meet and attack our self-esteem.

"It's natural for people to find difficulties there but the question is what kind of approach have we developed to tackle these kinds of problems?"

The psychologist says it has become more acceptable to see problems in the individual, either in the form of a social phobia or panic attacks.

"And the person can take refuge in that and then he gets stuck in that diagnosis. And he can also profit from that kind of status, which is a trap, and very difficult to get out of."

In brief

The state invalidity benefit scheme was set up in 1959. It is mandatory for all residents in Switzerland who are gainfully employed.

The scheme is financed by a 1.4% deduction from salaries. The federal authorities provide additional funding.

The insurance system has been in the red since the beginning of the 1990s. The number of benefit claimants has increased as a result of more people suffering from mental illnesses and work-related stress.

In May 2004 voters rejected plans for a one-per-cent hike in value added tax to fund the invalidity scheme.

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Key facts

The number of 18 to 30 year olds who qualified for invalidity benefit increased by 16% from 2000 to 2004.
The rate was 40% for 18 and 19 year olds.
Overall, 46% of new female claimants and 37% of new male claimants of all ages are granted benefit for mental health reasons.

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