Nichtsein by Katharina Schwarz is an infographic book detailing and explaining the psychological, biological and cultural factors that impact a person’s likelihood of experiencing suicidal thoughts. The book aims to promote a more open dialogue around the topic, presenting facts to both raise awareness of its commonality but also to establish a better understanding of how, usually, multiple factors play a role in instigating suicidal tendencies.
The project was developed as part of the Visual Society Program, an initiative which sees young designers push their work beyond the boundaries of their disciplines by creating work alongside social researchers. This initiative aims to create new approaches to socially relevant topics and to translate socio-scientific research results in to analytic visuals. In this case the collaboration took place between masters students from David Skopec’s class at the University of Arts, Berlin and social scientists from the Social Science Centre, Berlin (WZB). Katharina was paired with Ellen von den Driesch, a demographer at WZB who had been researching suicide in the German Democratic Republic (formerly East Germany).
Prior to undertaking the project, Katharina had always felt that suicide was a topic made up of tragic but a small number of individual cases. However, after her first bout of research was shocked to find that in Germany more people die from suicide than from traffic accidents, HIV and murder combined.
The book is divided into chapters representative of different factors that can affect suicidal thoughts such as depression, income, marital status, gender, being part of a minority group, health, political motives and addiction among many others. The first chapter in the book is age – every punched hole stands for one suicide in Germany in 2015, in ascending order. This not only visually represents the immense numbers but also outlines statistics including that risk of suicide increases with age. The book also contains comparative data from other countries such as quality of health care systems or alcohol consumption in order to highlight how it is not always a personal issue but a problem which can be dictated by the environment or society a person lives in.
The design of the book is extremely pared-down, with some visuals seeming to disappear completely from the pages leaving only an empty space behind. From the colours to tone-of-voice, the book is incredibly neutral – a very deliberate decision from Katharina who was anxious to neither romanticise nor scandalise the topic. Instead she wanted to show how complex and relevant the subject is through the use of visualised data. Katharina explained to us how “because of the possible copycat effect, known as the Werther-effect, you have to deal with this subject in a responsible way.” The Werther-effect refers to a phenomenon that sees a spike of emulation suicides after a case is widely publicised, usually in the media. It’s for this reason that the book very much sticks to facts and figures instead of imposing any opinion on its audience.
1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year, and in England, 1 in every 6 people report a common mental health problem – like anxiety and depression – each week. But only 1 in 4 people in the UK reporting mental health difficulties receive ongoing treatment. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in today’s coverage, if you would like to find out more or to donate, please contact Mind or CALM.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.