• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Why France has such a high rate of suicides
France's suicide rate is well above the European average. Photo: Stavros/flickr

Why France has such a high rate of suicides

Ben McPartland · 10 Sep 2013, 16:49

Published: 10 Sep 2013 16:49 GMT+02:00

Every day in France an average of 21 men and eight women take their own lives and around 700 attempt it.

Stories about many of these suicides, some of them particularly shocking such as the despairing unemployed man who set himself on fire outside a job centre recently, end up in the French press on a regular basis.

And the latest figures published this week to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday, revealed that France does have an acute problem with suicide, and charities are demanding the government gives the issue its full attention.

The figures from statistics agencies INSEE and Eurostat, published by the National Association for the Prevention of Suicide, show that the number of people who commit suicide in France is worryingly well above the European average.

Every year around 220,000 people in France attempt to take their own life and 10,000 of those die as a result. These alarming statistics mean that the number of suicides in France is more than double that of the UK and Spain.

Statistics for 2009 show the European Union average for the number of suicides per 100,000 inhabitants stood at 16.8 for men and 4.4 for women. However in France the number of suicides stood at 23.5 and 7.5 respectively.

So why does France suffer from a phenomenon that has, in the past at least, been more associated with Scandinavian countries?

Bodies dragged through the streets

Jean-Claude Delgenes, the director of Technologia, a company which works with highlighting safety concerns for workers, said that  historically, from before the revolution up to the present day, France has never shown a good example of how to deal with the issue.

“Until the revolution, people who took their own lives had their bodies mutilated, dragged through the streets and buried outside town, because it was considered a shameful act,” Delgenes told The Local.

“Another explanation is the historical influence of Catholicism in France. For the church, committing suicide was a big sin and it was a question that was dealt with from a moral point of view rather than a scientific one” he said, which prevented mental health problems from being treated seriously.

For Delgenes, France has also been left lagging behind its European neighbours when it comes to trying to prevent suicide.

“For a lot of issues, whether its suicide, asbestos or cancer, France was left behind when it came to creating programmes and policies geared towards prevention.

“In the UK the first plan to help prevent suicide was laid out in 1950, in France it was in the year 2000.  

Statistics show that the majority of people who kill themselves in France are aged between 35 and 64, and the rate increases with age.

Certain areas of rural France are also worse affected than others, with Brittany and Poitou-Charentes in the west and Nord Pas-de-Calais in the north of the country particularly affected.

The lack of access to services in rural areas of France is considered a reason for this trend.

As might be expected, a person’s financial situation can aggravate the risk, with the suicide rate among job-seekers twice as high as among those with jobs.

In France people have a different relationship with their jobs

In recent months France has witnessed a number of shocking incidents in which several despairing unemployed people have set themselves on fire in front of job centres.

But it is not always those out of work in France who are propelled to take their own lives.

For Delgenes the traditional economic model in France, which has had many huge state-run companies where employees have worked for almost all their lives, can also help explain a high suicide rate, especially during the ongoing economic crisis.

“Work normally protects people from thinking about suicide as it's normally those whose are unemployed or living in poverty who are most at risk, but in recent years, in some cases work has actually been a cause to push people to take such extreme action.

In 2009, former state-run company France Telecom hit the news after a wave of staff suicides which saw 20 workers take their lives in 19 months.

“A lot of people, perhaps some who have worked for state-run companies, often find themselves lost with the pace of change. They cannot find their feet and are being asked to do different jobs which they may never have been trained for and cannot cope with.

Story continues below…

“In Anglo countries people don’t have the same relationship with work. They change jobs more often and try new careers but in France people really identify themselves with a job, especially if they have trained for it and it’s hard for them to change, especially in a time of high unemployment.”

National Observatory set up

Earlier this year a study was published which revealed that more and French people are living lonely lives. Odile de Laurens from the charity Fondation de France explained the reason was partly to do with modern life and the loss of traditional French family values.

Delgenes and numerous charities in the field have long been calling on French lawmakers to take action to deal with the issue.

On Tuesday, to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, the government finally heeded the calls of various charities and experts and set up a National Observatory on Suicide Risks.

The Observatory was launched by Health Minister Marisol Touraine and will have three main missions: to gather information on suicide from various sources, conduct additional studies that are deemed necessary and to propose action to prevent suicide.

For Delgenes and other charities who have worked in the field, the project is late, but it's better than never. 

“By opting for a proactive and consistent policy we can bring down the mortality rate, as has been the case with the number of road deaths,” he added.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Saudi princess 'told guard to kill Paris decorator'
Photo: Eurovizion/Flickr

"You have to kill this dog, he doesn't deserve to live," the princess allegedly said.

Paying for sex in France: Has the new law been effective?

Around 40 sex buyers are caught each month across the whole of France. Does that sound like much?

Only in France: 'Drive slowly - grape juice on the roads'
Photo: Rexness/Flickr

You know you're in France when...

France gives lift off to tough new drone laws
Photo: AFP

Time to crack down on drones, say French lawmakers.

Bienvenue en France: France cuts red tape for UK firms
Photo: AFP

France is ready to roll out the red carpet for UK firms quitting Britain because of Brexit fears.

VIDEO: Is life on a French café terrace really this bad?
Photo: Canal Plus

Bird poo, bums and butts: Is life on les terraces really as bad as this?

'Five terror plots thwarted' on Riviera since Nice attack
A police boat patrols the waters off the beach in Nice during the summer. Photo: AFP

Authorities in Nice say five potentially deadly terror plots on the French Riviera have been foiled since the Bastille Day truck attack in the resort.

IN PICTURES
French firefighters calendar to provoke global palpitations
Photo: Fred Goudon

Warning: Some readers may suffer palpitations, sweats or other side-effects when reading this story.

Why Paris beach festival could be sand-free in future
Photo: AFP

Is a beach with no sand still a beach?

Lost without translation: The struggles of Calais migrants
Communication problems in the Calais jungle camp. Photo: AFP

So many languages are spoken in the Calais jungle migrant camp but French is rarely heard.

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Culture
The crazy French writing phrases you can't get your head around
Features
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
'Stop telling immigrants to be French and help it happen'
Society
Take the test: How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Lifestyle
Eleven things you should know before moving to Paris
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
Education
Grenoble named France's best city to be a student
Society
New Metro map reveals cheapest pints of beer in Paris
Business & Money
How reliant is the French economy on Paris?
Society
Here's why Parisians want to move to Bordeaux
And the 'best place to spend a weekend in Europe' is… Lyon
Analysis & Opinion
'Muslims in France must be considered ordinary citizens'
Armed guards to ride French trains from October
National
France among Europe's priciest for train travel
2,733
jobs available