A sticky myth about Sweden…

Here we go again…Talking to a friend in London on the phone I get the question I have got so many times before “Why do you think so many people in Sweden commit suicide?” It seems quite a few people out there are convinced that not only are we all tall, blonde and blue-eyed (false, false, false), we are also profoundly unhappy and suicidal…So what do these ideas have in common? Correct, they are nonsense!

With regards to the perception about suicidal Swedes, some updated information quoted by Wikipedia shows that Sweden is nowhere near the top of this list;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate
In fact, suicide rates have never been very high in Sweden when compared to the top names on that list: please check:
http://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/365.pdf
So where did this pervasive idea connecting Sweden and suicide come from?
After doing a bit of digging, it seems that it might have come from the United States: In 1960 (using 1957 data) the New York Times ran an article about suicide in the world. Very few countries reported any statistics at all back then but Sweden did – and Sweden still only made number 6 on the list, behind Switzerland, Finland, Denmark and Austria and Japan in first place.

So Sweden got labeled as the country of the depressed, and it has apparently remained in the subconscious imagination of the world ever since …The question is, what can we do to kill this sticky myth for once and for all?

/Frida

  • http://www.owners-direct.org Sarah

    I think it’s more to do with Finland’s suicide/depression rate. People just get Scandinavian countries mixed up – I mean, they all have polar bears and communists.

  • Anonymous

    I dont think it has anything to do with Finland – (& even Finalnd isnt that high). Its more like the article says, people had this idea from way back in the 70′s that Swedes were depressed and suicidal – just turns out to ba false!

  • http://www.lisamikulski.com lisa mikulski

    I’d love to help dispel this myth. I am an American with ties to Sweden and hope to be moving there soon. As a writer, one of my missions is to address different cultural morays not as good or bad, but different. Many of my readers have expressed interest in learning more about Sweden. Feel free to contact me and let’s see if we can work together.

  • Frida/Staff blog

    I agree with “Anonymous”, I don’t believe that this myth has anything to do with confusing Sweden with Finland (which is not even in the top 10 of the list of countries by suicide rate). Working with marketing Sweden abroad I quite often see that Sweden is confused with a completely different country – Switzerland – a country which is even further down the list.
    Somebody suggested that our amazing but sometimes grim Ingemar Bergman films have fuelled this myth. I don’t know?…
    Lisa – any help in getting rid of this myth is welcomed!

  • Anonymous

    “The question is, what can we do to kill this sticky myth for once and for all?”

    The only answer is… never mind. Bad joke.

  • Swetha Padala

    Hi Lisa, I just happened to read your article and I’m disappointed to know that the education fair at Chennai got over on the 7th of December. I have finished my Bachelors in Dental Surgery (BDS) program in October 2010, and I want to know of the higher study prospects for dental students in your country. Do you accept international students for the masters program? It would be wonderful,if you could give me a reply. My e-mail id is swetha.padala@yahoo.co.in.
    Looking forward for your reply.

    Best wishes,
    Swetha Padala

  • Pol – Croatia

    Interestingly, in Croatia we have also a lack of public toilets and the newer ones in larger public facilites mostly have to be payed - for roughly the same price (around 3,00 kuna or ~0,50 €), but usualy properly maintained. I’ve heared also about some payable automatic public toiletes instaled in Zagreb, but like many other things here this one too was claimed to be a case of corruption and eventualy out of proper usage.

    In my town, strange – but true, the only free few public toilets i can think of are those build during italian fascist regime some 90 years ago. They were semi-opened and not very private or hygienic and have been quite often used (especially by man) during Yugoslavia times, but eventually they were conserved like an historical monument and placed out of function. Nevertheless some people continued to use them and even broke the protective fence several times, probably in the rush of emergency :-)

  • Cecile Pham

    Kate.  this is a priceless post. You are the queen of hilarity. My favorite part the dramatic re-enactment of coffee house bathroom situation. “oh what do we have here it’s the bathroom I’ll pop in for just a second and check if she’s here ahhhhhhhhhhhh sweet relief.” Good thing I’m a camel. Which is probably why I never observed this little fact till you pointed it out here.

  • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

    hee hee :) glad you enjoyed it! i really hope that no one from the espresso house across from the train station in lund ever reads this… my cover would be so blown. miss you!

  • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

    funny to think of toilets being maintained as historical monuments! and even funnier to think of people defying the sanctity of the monument to heed the call of nature. thanks for sharing :)

  • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

    i know!!! how is it that everything is clean and beautifully maintained here except for the bathrooms?! i do not understand. 

  • Anonymous

    Uhm ok. In my city, Skellefteå there are plenty of free and non disgusting public restrooms, for instance the public library are full of them.

  • Monica-USA

    Well so much for me wanting to visit Sweden then I guess if I ever make it I will have to provide my own porta-potty or I  will be in trouble!!!! Ha,ha   You would think there would be more facilities available. I experienced the same thing when I was in Germany in 1996 I couldn’t get used to carrying coins around with me to make sure I could use the bathroom.  Good luck Sweden….Thanks Kate for another entertaining story. :o )

  • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

    Lucky you!! Maybe your librarians up there can send a memo to the Stadsbiblioteks in Malmö and Lund! Would be much appreciated. 

  • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

    Hahaha so true! Someone should develop ultra-portable porta potties so that you can take them on vacation. What an idea! :)

  • Anonymous

    Hilarious and so true :)

  • Susan

    Lived in Sweden ’70-’72 but have no memory of this socialist oversight.
    However, I do remember while hitchhiking w my Swedish boyfriend on the
    German autobahn, I was nearly assaulted by the reststop toilet attendant for
    having no money on me. A hefty German woman heard the commotion and
    put herself between me and the raging attendant flinging down a few coins to
    secure my safe passage. After emerging from the bathroom quite shaken, my
    boyfriend called me dumb for trying to pee free!:(

  • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

    Hahahaha what a great story! I laughed out loud at the idea of your hefty German savior. And so funny/tragic that your boyfriend had no pity… You must have a lot of crazy stories from that trip! 

    Thanks so much for reading and sharing your story!

  • B_j_richardson

    I’ve just started reading your blog and I love it! You have a great sense of humor and I’ve learned a few things too. I’ve been on this whole ”Swedish kick” lately, studying everything I can find, including the 6 pages of Swedish phrases I found at the back of a book on Europe. I guess I am one of those idealistic people you mentioned who’ve never been to Sweden, but I’m trying to change that. With a little luck I hope to make my first trip next summer just in time for MidSummer. In the meantime, your posts are entertaining and educational – how else would I know to carry 5 kroner pieces wherever I go??? I drink way too much water to miss that info!

  • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

    Hee hee thanks! 

  • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

    Wow! Thank you so much for the kind words… I can’t think of a better response to a blog post. I’m glad to hear that you’re thinking of visiting Sweden for Midsummer. In my opinion, it’s the best time of year! Thanks again for reading, and let me know if there’s anything you’re particularly curious about.

  • Sherian Elizabeth

    Kate: I found your blog by accident and I am so very glad to have found you. I have been wanting to come to Sweden for over a decade now and read everything I can get my hands on about Sweden. I even subscribe to “The Local” newspaper and read it every day, oh, I am an American and I love your comments about what this country has turned into, your so right, the 3 big K sisters have taken over this country and so has their mther, heaven for bid.  I love the Swedish royal family and am a really big fan of Crown Princess Victoria, I too have often wondered how One person can do 2 jobs,presidency, a president has to be in 2 places at once sometimes.  I don’t mind a royal family in the country if that is their choice, I would never begrudge anyone person or country their heritage. You have a wonderful sense of humor and I jus tlove the way you write, I will be following you from now on each day. If you have any info on how an retired American woman could move to Sweden, please let me know.  If your wondering, I love snow, more snow the better and I like cold weather and love the Nordic countries.

  • http://twitter.com/FutureExpat Susanna Perkins

    LOL! Certainly a view of Sweden I never read before. Thanks so much :-)

  • Daniella

    I totally agree on the bathroom situation! And yes, I have done the whole “I am just looking for my friend, she should be in this coffee shop somewhere”.
    I currently live in California and both my husband and I have reflected multiple times on the availability of restrooms. The fact that there are (often very clean and well kept) restrooms in parks and every playground is amazing! Free of charge!

  • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

    So nice! That’s how I feel every time I go home–bathrooms in the grocery store, in the pharmacy, at the park, whatever. Haha ohhh well… 

    Thanks for reading!

  • http://twitter.com/NikkiGuest Nikki Jayne Guest

    Oh my gosh, England is the same. You only really get them in train station or big shopping centres.

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  • Mann Dricken

    One would think, being Swedish, the myth would kill itself.

  • Random Punter

    After living here for a year I feel like committing suicide, so perhaps there’s something about the atmosphere here after all

  • Hope_125

    I’ve lived in Sweden my whole life and i can tell anyone who wants to live here that there are some certain problems you will face. 1st is the depressing weather almost 9 months of darkness, snow, rain. Second . The people. If you look like a Swede you might be treated well or at least with some kindness and dignity but if you’re from the middle east or have roots from Africa you are doomed to be labeled with any stereotype the local Swedish media puts out.
    Conclusion is very basic to this topic. Don’t move here or move out. Sweden is a feminist country with no respect for males and a very depressing dark and cold country. Sorry fellow Swedes but i am considered an immigrant to you even thought i was born here. I am moving out thought.

  • Name Eman

    I would think that the myth, being American, would not try to kill itself as it should, rather conquer the world.. no?