Music composer's suicide fills psychiatric wards

Karel Svoboda

Crowds thronged Prague's Strasnice crematorium on Tuesday to pay their last respects to the composer Karel Svoboda, who committed suicide last week. The sudden death of this hugely successful songwriter came as a shock to many Czechs. Some have even taken it so badly that they are seeking medical help.

Psychiatrists say it is not unusual for their waiting rooms to be full during the cold and dark months of January and February. But the last few days have seen a significantly higher number of cases of depression and experts attribute this to the recent suicide of one of the country's most respected celebrities. Psychiatrist Juraj Mikulas is from Prague's Central Military Hospital:

"People might attribute various almost supernatural powers to celebrities. They think that celebrities do not go through the ordinary problems of life. But we basically all go through these problems and we all have to face them regardless of the fortune, education, or the gifts and talents that we have. Perhaps people tend to think that if this happened to this famous person who was so well protected by his wealth and talent and fame what could happen to them, the ordinary citizens, who do not have all these advantages in life. So they may perhaps feel a little bit unsafe about themselves."

Psychiatrists say there are two groups of people who have been affected by Mr Svoboda's death. The first group are those who have already been thinking of committing suicide but never found the courage to go through with it. The second group of patients had been battling depression but were too embarrassed to get help. Of the Prague residents we approached, most of them said they have not been affected personally by the recent death but can see how others have not been able to come to terms with it:

"The day the news broke I saw a person on the subway reading a newspaper so I went to buy the paper and I was shocked because I thought that it was all going well and that the family was happy."

"I always thought he was a robust person, both physically and psychologically. So I thought to myself that for those people who are a little unstable it must have been a big shock. They may now think to themselves 'if even people like him committed suicide then what about me'."

"I was affected because I know his work and I know what he did and I think it is a great loss for the Czech culture."