When Switzerland Accidentally Lowered Its Suicide Rate
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Politics and Activism

When Switzerland Accidentally Lowered Its Suicide Rate

Reducing access to firearms saved lives.

When Switzerland Accidentally Lowered Its Suicide Rate

Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week, and The Atlantic ran a fascinating article about how Switzerland “accidentally” decreased their suicide rate.

When Swiss psychiatrist Thomas Resich reviewed suicide statistics in his country, he noticed that the rate dramatically dropped in 2004. Reisch theorized that this might correlate to the government’s decision to halve the military, so that many men who would have owned guns as a result of their service did not end up with guns.

See, Switzerland has the fourth-highest rate of gun ownership in the world due to mandatory military service. While in service, even at home in the country, men are required to keep their guns with them. Once discharged, they can buy their gun at a discount—thus, most Swiss men have guns.

To test his theory, Reisch studied the rate of suicide among Swiss men versus women. If his theory was correct, the rate of suicide for men would lower, while women would remain the same (since women are not required to serve in the military).

His study, published in 2013 by The American Journal of Psychiatry, showed that "there were 2.16 fewer suicides per 100,000, meaning about 30 men were “saved” by the reforms. As estimated, the rate among women held steady.

These results are seen in other countries too: A 2010 study of the Israeli army...found that requiring soldiers to leave their weapons on base over the weekend, as opposed to bringing them home, decreased the suicide rate among troops by almost 40 percent. The high correlation between guns and suicide exists because guns allow a person to act on impulse, and 71% of attempts occur within the hour of the urge.

Pro-gun activists argue that people who want to kill themselves will just find another way, but these men in Switzerland and Israel did not. Three out of four Swiss men who had struggled with suicidal thoughts said that they would not consider hanging, poison, etc., while they would have used a gun.

Many studies of all 50 United States directly link higher rates of suicide with gun ownership, but this study is highly important because Reisch did not use a sample population or a control group. He simply documented data that was already there - the rate of suicide when fewer men had guns compared to the suicide rate when more men owned them.

Even Swiss arms dealers acknowledge the consequences. In fact, the leading firearms industry in Switzerland partnered with the country’s largest suicide prevention organization to create an education program intended to reduce gun suicides.

This would be the equivalent to the NRA admitting that gun ownership increases violence—something that I think we all know is not likely to happen.

But reducing access to firearms is critical for saving lives, particularly among men, who are most likely to use them. Because it is National Suicide Awareness Month, now is a good time to talk about this.

I supported gun rights for a long time, but am reevaluating my stance. I can't in good conscience support, much less celebrate, the primary object that most easily allows suicide.

That is not to say that I want the U.S. to ban all guns immediately, but just that this information is worth careful consideration.

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