National rail operator aims to cut suicides

National rail operator aims to cut suicides
Image for the website of the "helping hand" aid service aimed at preventing suicide. Photo:
Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) is stepping up action to reduce the number of people in Switzerland who commit suicide by throwing themselves in front of trains.

At the beginning of the year, the state-owned railway installed posters in stations advertising a toll-free number to help troubled individuals, particularly youths, who may be contemplating ending their lives.

In Switzerland, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, an average of 15 people die each month by jumping in front of a locomotive.

“Train drivers (involved in such incidents) are often in a state of shock,” Hubert Giger, president of the Swiss union of train drivers, told Blick newspaper earlier this week.

“For that reason they are systematically replaced when such a thing occurs,” Giger said.

They are quickly exposed to this phenomenon, however, during their training, he said.

The SBB has a “helping hand” campaign which offers support through a toll-free crisis phone number 143 and by email, with replies promised within 48 hours.

The rail operator hired an external expert to deal with the issue and has engaged employees in an awareness campaign.

“It’s a delicate issue,” SBB spokesman Christian Ginsig is quoted as saying by Blick.

“There are no quick fixes.”

Swiss MP Maja Ingold, a member of the Evangelical People’s Party (EVP) from Zurich, has called for a national action plan so that persons at risk of taking their lives can be quickly identified and taken care of.

A parliamentary motion by Ingold, backed by the SBB and the Swiss association of psychiatry and psychotherapy, was supported by the Swiss senate on Tuesday and referred to the lower house of parliament for consideration.

Suicide remains one of the principal causes of mortality among young people aged 15 to 44 in Switzerland.

For those aged 10 to 19, it is the second biggest cause of death.

Between 1,300 and 1,400 suicides are recorded annually in the country.

For more information about the 143 helpline (in German, French and Italian only), check here.

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