Europe

Amid silent pandemic of suicides, Spain activates 24/7 crisis hotline

Person with suicidal behavior does not want to die, but wants to stop suffering, says health minister

Alyssa McMurtry   | 10.05.2022
Amid silent pandemic of suicides, Spain activates 24/7 crisis hotline

OVIEDO, Spain

As a growing number of people try to take their lives in Spain, the Spanish government activated the country’s first public national suicide prevention hotline on Tuesday.

“Suicide is a threat that has been hushed for far too long, and it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic. We need to make it visible and end the stigmas and taboos that surround it,” Health Minister Carolina Darias told a press conference.

Now, anyone in Spain can dial 024 and immediately get in touch with experts specialized in dealing with suicidal ideations or attempts.

“In addition, 024 will be connected to local emergency services to help those whose suffering is pushing them to the limit of their strength, because a person with suicidal behavior does not want to die, but wants to stop suffering,” Darias added.

Suicides have been growing in Spain in recent years. It has become the leading cause of non-natural deaths for the general population, and the leading cause of death for young adults.

In 2020, the year with the latest available data, nearly 4,000 people committed suicide in Spain – around 11 people every day. That figure was up 7.4% compared to 2019 and a record high, according to Spain’s National Statistics Institute.

By September 2021, the Official College of Psychology in Madrid warned that suicide attempts and self-harm had shot up 250% among young people during the pandemic.

A study published by the University of La Rioja last week even found that 19% of teenagers considered suicide in the last year, 7% went as far as planning it, and 4.6% made an attempt.

The ANAR Foundation, which also runs a mental health hotline for youth, said that in 2021 calls related to suicidal ideations almost doubled from 2020. Overall, its annual report found that calls related to suicidal ideations have increased 18.8 fold since 2011.

“The loneliness produced by new forms of communication and technologies, the lack of emotional role models, communication problems, greater exposure to violence through technology and other huge problems like coronavirus and the invasion of Ukraine all generate psychological, social and economic problems that increase frustration, demotivation, uncertainty, discomfort and, at times, hopelessness,” said Benjamín Ballesteros, ANAR’s head of psychological programs.

While suicide crisis lines have helped people around the world for years, it is no panacea.

In Spain, significant barriers to getting help around mental health remain, despite the country having the second-highest rate of diagnosed depression in the EU, only behind Greece, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

While stigma remains, Spain also has long waitlists to see public sector psychologists and the private sector can be prohibitively expensive.

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