So, the newspapers are trying to paint a picture of a ‘Wallander curse’. A second Wallander actor, Emil Forselius, was discovered dead this morning in his apartment. He had committed suicide. A while ago, popular actor Johanna Sällström also killed herself – while in the middle of a Wallander film project.
The myth of Swedish suicide still has a strong hold outside of Sweden. When non-Swedes are asked what stereotypes they have of Swedes very many of them say ‘suicidal’. Why is this the case?
Is it because of the long dark winters and the problem we can have with seasonal adjustment disorder? Maybe. Is it the legacy of depressing, morose Bergman films that have painted a miserable and introspective view of the Swedes? Perhaps. Is it the lack of ‘godliness’, no real strong belief in religion, that means taking your own life is easier? Could be.
Combined, of course, with statistics.
According to statistics, Swedes have the highest suicide rate in the world. This is something that non-Swedes often love to refer to. But statistics are deceptive.
Most countries in the world do not even keep statistics of suicide, especially those countries with strong religious beliefs (which is most of them). When people commit suicide, they call it something else, in order to secure a place for the dead person in heaven or to prevent the family from being burdened with shame.
But in Sweden, suicide is not a sin. Suicide is a tragedy. In Sweden suicide is documented as what it is – suicide – as a reminder for the rest of us how fragile our existence is.
So, of course Sweden has the highest statistics, because Sweden is one of the few countries to actually keep accurate documentation.
I don’t believe that Swedes have a tendency to take their own lives more than other nationals. I just believe that when they do, the nation doesn’t try to hide it. It is hard enough for families to deal with their grief without having to also be weighed down with shame.
Ultimately, Sweden is a modern society where citizens have free choice to make decisions that influence their own lives. Suicide is, in its extreme, a way of exercising this free choice. It is of course a tragedy but it is not something we should ignore and hide.
As long as some people in our society feel that suicide is their only choice, it is our obligation to document and defend an open dialogue about it.