Swedes have a reputation for being depressed and suicidal. But while this is largely a myth, there certainly are a lot of things in this country that can get you down.
In winter, the daylight hours are so few that office workers often don't see the sunlight at all. The temperature can drop to -20C. The state-run alcohol shops shut at 6pm. More people live alone in Sweden than in any other European country.
No doubt with all this in mind, Taxi Stockholm announced last week that it was putting fully-qualified psychologists in the back of some of its cabs so that people can get around the capital while clearing their minds.
I've never been to therapy before. But I booked a ride in the name of journalistic research. Although I did end up sharing a few problems of my own.
The therapy taxis will be on offer all week. Photo: TT
The taxi was waiting outside my office. The driver, who had signed a non-disclosure statement, opened the door for me. The therapist was in the back. A lovely lady, very kind. I was a bit intimidated.
“How does this work then?” I asked, peering nervously at the driver in his rear-view mirror.
“It's just like one of those newspaper columns,” she responded. “You just tell me your problems and I'll see if I can point you in the right direction.”
So off we went for an autumn journey through Stockholm's sprawling southern suburbs. The cab driver navigated the streets without speaking a word. The music was off. And I talked to the therapist.
What about? Nothing too interesting for an outsider, perhaps, but I shared a few of the things that had been weighing heavy of late. I did notice that the therapist was busy scribbling in her notebook. I think she even underlined something.
I imagine it was exactly like a typical therapy session, except it was in the back of a taxi.
To be fair, I pretty much forgot the driver was even there, and I definitely wasn't thinking about where we were going (except for a stunning detour through the beautiful Hammarby Sjöstad suburb).
As we got back towards the office, I asked the therapist if Swedes were actually as depressed as everyone says.
“That's just a cliché among other clichés,” she responded, although she admitted that she didn't know the latest official statistics.
She explained that more Swedes are seeking help these days, but added that this could just be because help is now easier to find.
“Getting therapy is not as looked down upon as it used to be. It's more open, a lot of celebrities talk about their mental illness or worries and it's easier for people to open up. We don't know if that's why people report more depression or if it's because people are actually getting worse.”
She added that most Stockholmers come to her with complaints of anxiety and social disorders.
Stockholmers can let their mind wander during the taxi ride. Photo: TT
The taxi driver, meanwhile, sat silently the whole time. When I turned to talk to him he was almost surprised. I asked him how it felt to have strangers in his car discussing their life problems.
“I've been driving for 25 years,” he responded. “I just focus on the traffic.”
“But if people want to talk to me then I will always listen. I tell people to treat my cab like it's their home – as long as they don't treat it like their bedroom then I'm fine,” he said with a chuckle.
He added that while I had been speaking, he had picked up the occasional word, but found himself tuning out. The jury's out on whether he actually was focusing on the challenge of navigating Stockholm streets, or whether my life is actually that dull.
The driver, a foreigner who was raised in Sweden, said that most of the fleet's drivers are foreigners too. There are 75 countries represented among the 4,700 drivers, he said.
“And I'd guess around 80 percent or more are foreigners,” he added.
Right while we were getting into a fascinating discussion about whether Swedes or foreigners in Sweden made for the best conversations, we pulled up at the office again. The time was over. I had to get off the “couch” and let the next “patient” in.
But the whole trip got me thinking. Could an idea like this catch on? Personally, I was surprised how much I got out of a thirty-minute chat with the therapist.
There's nothing like being driven around a city – it's a luxury and you can let your mind really wander. Having an expert there to tease and probe just the right things out of you adds another layer to the experience.
Having said that, I don't feel like the idea will carry on longer than the trial week which begins today – but who am I to judge?
Instead, why don't you tell me what you think? Sit down, get comfortable, and pour your heart out in the comments field below. And don't worry, there's no meter running here.
Find out more about the taxis here.