Suicide, an uncomfortable reality that must be addressed

Mental healthcare services must be strengthened and stigma removed

For years, journalism has reflected on how to deal with the phenomenon of suicide. There were voices that warned that talking about it was harmful, because it could have a certain copy-cat effect. Over time, however, specialists have been opting to shed light on this uncomfortable reality that affects ever more people. Suicide is now - after the fall in traffic accidents - the leading cause of death among men aged 25 to 44 and the second among women in this same age group. And most suffered from depression or some other type of mental disorder. This is the case of Mònica, the witness who has agreed to tell her story to the ARA: why she tried to commit suicide and how she is trying to fight the stigma of mental illness.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of preventing suicides by strengthening mental healthcare within the public network, since many people end up committing suicide without having been diagnosed and therefore without any help. Unfortunately, the public health system, which is so efficient for other types of conditions, is not prepared to meet the growing demand in this area, and this makes it common for those who can afford it to opt for private care. In Catalonia there are adult mental health centres (CSMA), where patients are referred by GPs. However, due to their saturation, they can only offer one 30-minute visit every two months, although therapies need a more continuous follow-up.

Barcelona City Council has set up a pioneering service in the form of a suicide prevention telephone line (900 92 55 55). It is staffed by volunteers and assists people who have suicidal thoughts and have no other options. The number of calls handled, 384 since August, despite being a rather unknown service, shows how necessary it is. It is also significant that the vast majority of users, 80%, are women.

But none of this will work unless society as a whole becomes aware firstly of the importance of detecting the symptoms of people who need help and secondly of the need to combat the stigma still suffered by people who admit to some form of mental disorder. It is estimated that for every completed suicide there have been at least eight failed attempts, so that the total number of fatalities is only the tip of the iceberg of a phenomenon that is much more widespread than it might seem. The figures also indicate that the pandemic, and all that it entails in terms of fears and uncertainties, has led to an increase in depression in general.

It is therefore time to start tackling this uncomfortable reality, to bring witnesses and experiences into the light, to talk about an issue that is particularly serious in the case of teenagers, who are today subject to forms of social pressure that were unknown only a few years ago. And in this case, as in the case of conventional physical illnesses, prevention and early detection are essential.

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