Failed suicides are glad they survived

Suicide attempt - he threw himself in front of the train because of depression - and survived

He threw himself in front of the train because of depression - and survived

He knew neither in nor out, his last way out of his depression: He threw himself in front of the train and survived - mutilated. What Viktor Staudt says about depression and how he encourages depressed people.

Schlossgarten, is the address. But the square around the town hall Singen is not a garden, it is bare and deserted: straight lines, bulky cubes - the sixties cleaned up a lot. Where is the person?

The lobby and hall of the hotel next door are also oversized. Hostel nurses bravely wait for souls who may have wandered tiredly. A slight trepidation takes possession of us: If you get stuck at some point, life, where it is quasi-evidently lacking, can already be fatal.

Viktor Staudt rolls towards us. Looking considerably younger than he is (46). Sporty and fit, except for the stump of the leg in the chair. Courageous in appearance, firm in voice, initially armed and alert despite all openness. Observing who his counterpart is, what language he is using. Then increasingly relaxed, still being precise when speaking. Almost brotherly, as he shows us, lifting his wheelchair on the curb - in short: clearly the liveliest person here.

Apparently for others too. At breakfast, says Staudt, German company bosses discussed at the next table how to deal with a depressed employee. Staudt allowed himself to interfere and gave them advice. Now everyone passes by saying hello. They would like to continue talking to him, they do not want to be in the papers at any cost.

Surviving an illness

Viktor Staudt, born in Holland, was depressed for years. Only he didn't really know it at the time. He commuted from the same suburban train station to the center of Amsterdam. One day he knew he was going to kill himself there. He practiced it the day before. And he put it into practice the day after: "Whoever kills himself has said goodbye to everything beforehand." The train tore off both legs and Staudt survived. Like every third person doing the same thing.

Every third suicide attempt is not fatal

Despite great reluctance: Last year, the SBB published for the first time figures on suicides on the rails and on suicide attempts. That's why we asked again this year. Not out of macabre curiosity, but for a special reason: What was striking about the numbers last year was that every third suicide attempt did not end fatally. A third survived.

That number seemed high to us. It is evidently also being discussed internally at SBB: Should we point it out more to prevent people from throwing themselves in front of the train? Because the likelihood of surviving, often mutilated, is high. Or does this reinforce the so-called Werther effect, thus calling for even more imitators on the scene?
About the numbers: In 2013, 187 people wanted to end their lives on the SBB tracks. 64 people survived, some with very serious injuries. According to information from the SBB communications service, this ratio remained roughly stable over the past year. According to this, there were 139 suicides and 81 suicide attempts on the SBB network in 2014.
Around 1100 people take their own lives nationwide every year. Railway suicides were previously considered a safe method. In “Schweiz am Sonntag”, emergency psychologist Heidi Aeschlimann said she hoped “that the numbers of unsuccessful suicide attempts will shake up”. Precisely this - the effect of such surveys - is the subject of considerations on prevention at SBB. The concern is also directed towards the protection of the train drivers. (Mad.)

When Staudt woke up in the hospital, the doctor said to him: "Now you have two problems" - the desolation and the missing legs. Staudt was thirty years old at the time. And certainly did not want to go on living; the depression persisted. Until one day a doctor found the right medication for it. Staudt has been taking the remedy ever since and will need it for the rest of his life. "Just like someone has to take insulin for life," he says.

Is he glad he was alive?

“There is a difference between being happy and not being sick,” says Staudt. «Life is a lonely adventure. If you have pneumonia, nobody asks whether you are happy afterwards, but rather whether you have survived the disease. " There are various reasons why life is worth living - «everyone should find out! If you keep asking me about happiness - well, I can already feel the sun, even without a Swiss bank account. "

A joke, not sarcasm. At Staudt, we didn't notice a hint of this during the conversation. Nor from the overly cautious seriousness with which such topics are usually padded rather than discussed. Staudt is already familiar with most of the questions. He is not tired of them. Despite many invitations after the publication of his book to read here (on the day we met in Singen), to talk about suicide there. And to face train drivers in public, often victims of rail suicides.

On the crash of the Germanwings: Are suicides egoists?

“After I survived on the platform,” says Staudt, “I would have wanted to crawl into the ground in shame. With a story like this, you sit in front of everyone in your underpants, as it were. You can ask me anything about that. " So we ask him the current burning question after a depressed co-pilot allegedly crashed a Germanwings plane with 150 people on board:

Are suicides egoists?

“People describe the co-pilot as friendly, sporty, maybe a bit reserved,” replies Staudt, “he doesn't seem to have withdrawn from social life. That doesn't surprise me at all. I had been described in the same way after my attempted suicide. At that time I wanted to continue, to get my problems under control. Until I just couldn't go any further. This is what most likely happened to the co-pilot. For that speak inter alia. his sporting achievements, not least as a fight against depression. "

Did Staudt think of the train driver in Holland in 1999? Or to the passengers on board the train? "No. I was sick and wanted to put an end to the depression. I had no choice." Don't you always have a choice? «Deepest despair - nobody should ever go through something like this - combined with icy loneliness take away the choice. The train becomes only a means to an end, a machine without a personality. Like an airplane. "

As long as the suicide is thinking of the train driver, Staudt continues, as long as he is probably not taking the last step. He still thinks about life, there is still a connection to life.

“That probably also applies to the co-pilot: If he could have thought of the passengers at all, he would not have done it. Understood: That is by no means a justification! Just an attempt to explain. "

"The flight disaster could have been prevented - safely"

Could the disaster have been prevented? “Yes, of course, from my experience,” replies Staudt. “Of course, the copilot should have overcome his shame himself and should have reported to a friend, a relative, a colleague, pleading with him to help. The question is: Why didn't the copilot dare? "

Is that a question to everyone?

Why don't loved ones dare to reveal their depression to us? Why do we have inhibitions about visiting depressed people? "If someone has a broken leg," says Staudt, "nothing prevents you from visiting him at the sickbed."

Now a broken leg is a banal break, not a blackening of the soul. Not this intangible, as Staudt himself calls it. What can help against it? Staudt repeatedly mentions loneliness as if it were the primordial pond of all depression. So would the solitude bell be raised around everyone? Staudt seems to have consciously sought and chosen a residential area near Bologna where he runs less risk of becoming lonely.

The Werther and Papageno effects

Does it help if suicide is increasingly discussed in public - or does it arouse imitators? "The latter has been scientifically proven," says Staudt, "and is known as the Werther effect." (Note: This is why the media generally report reluctantly about suicides.)

“A second effect,” continues Staudt, “is called the Papageno effect; this too is based on scientific research. It says that an accurate narrative of how a deep crisis can be overcome encourages the depressed to seek help. If he has done it, they tell themselves, then I can do it too. You find courage to express yourself. "

Now Doctor Volksfreud knows that you don't have to take someone seriously who is simply lafing about suicide - pomposity! "This is nonsense," says Staudt, "you have to take anyone who talks about it seriously."

That's why he's on the move. Not because he recognized the meaning of life as crystal clear and could show the way to happiness in seven lessons. Simply because someone mastered the crisis, as living proof.

Staudt is convincing because he gets by without a milligram of dismay kitsch. Because it remained clear and formulated soberly, well and sensibly. A self-aware spirit that creates the possibility of identification for people who are in a situation that seems hopeless to them: "I didn't have such an opportunity at the time."

Viktor Staudt: The story of my suicide - and how I found life again. Droemer Verlag. 2013.