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Why are the French so Prone to Suicide?

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It is the country that invented the 35-hour working week and whose president extols the merits of measuring happiness, not just national income, making observers refer to the high suicide rate in the country as "chilling," says the Economist.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):

* The French suicide rate is 14.6 per 100,000 people.
* Men are particularly prone: 22.8 versus 7.5 for women.
* More people take their lives as a share of the population than anywhere in Western Europe other than Finland and Belgium.
* The French suicide rate is over twice that in Britain and 40 percent higher than in Germany and America.

According to a recent mental health survey:

* Two-fifths of French people suffer from serious depression at some point in their lives.
* The French swallow more anti-depressant per head than the Germans or British.
* One in 10 French people claims anti-depressant medication on their public health-insurance.

France offers its citizens unusual comforts, with first-rate health care, long holidays, sit-down lunches, protected jobs and generous welfare. What then is the explanation for the high suicide rate? The veneer of security masks much uncertainty, says the Economist.

* Job protection rules discourage permanent job creation, so the young drift on temporary contracts.
* Unable to shed staff, firms give employees meaningless jobs instead, to try to nudge them out.
* Big French firms, many once branches of the civil service, have been opened up to market competition, bringing new pressures to perform in the office or factory floor.
* According to a survey, the French have less confidence in their employees (32 percent) than do either Germans (47 percent) or Americans (54 percent).

In a country that idealizes the good life, the reality of drudgery and waiting for the monthly paycheck, or of solitude in retirement, may just be too hard for some to accept, says the Economist.

Source: Editorial, "Why are the French so Prone to Suicide?" The Economist, October 10th - 16th, 2009.


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