June 14, 2021

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Empathy as a tool to combat suicide


The absence of economic resources, the lack of employment, the damage left by the earthquakes that affected the south of the country and the loss of loved ones and affective relationships are factors that, at this Christmas time, are intertwined with the physical distancing recommended to avoid transmission of COVID-19.

This new reality affects, to a greater extent, emotionally vulnerable people due to the risk that they threaten their lives, according to the educational coordinator of the Commission for the Prevention of Suicide (CPS) of the Department of Health, María Isabel Coss Guzmán. Therefore, he proposes empathy as a remedy.

“We have seen that (suicide) has to do with a multiplicity of factors from emotional, psychological and psychiatric health, but also with economic, family and social issues,” explained the psychologist in an interview with Primera Hora.

The CPS – a body created by law in 1999 to prevent this behavior in Puerto Rico – estimates that 295 people commit suicide annually; every 29 hours, a person kills himself. As of November this year, 151 people had committed suicide, five fewer than for the same date in 2019. Men, between 50 and 59 years old, make up the largest bulk of this data with 85%.

“Most of the cases are deaths that can be prevented if the population is duly sensitized to the problem, if it is informed and if we have the aid resources at our disposal,” Coss Guzmán emphasized.

He stressed that people should be aware of depressive behaviors, chronic anxiety and insomnia and interpersonal or family problems in those around them, because, if these signs are identified in time, they could save lives.

The CPS educational coordinator urged that special attention be paid to gender aspects that are intertwined with the position that men over 40 years of age occupy in the mortality rate.

“Still many men, in Puerto Rico, are taught not to show vulnerability, not to seek help and to always show that everything is in order … That, unfortunately, we see in suicide,” he said.

Similarly, he specified that, on the island, unlike in the United States, which is firearms, the most used method of suicide is hanging. However, he stressed that, this year, the use of the North American mechanism doubled compared to last year.

In December 2019, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced signed the new Weapons Law that simplified and lowered the conditions for acquiring possession and carrying licenses.

Regarding the calls received to the PAS (First Psychosocial Help) Line of the Administration of Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services (Assmca), data from the CPS show that, as of August 2020, they had made 11,593 interventions related to suicide. In 2019, they served 21,636 people between calls for ideas and attempts to kill themselves.

Give time and understanding

As if it were the list of gifts that a child makes to send to Santa Claus, the CPS invites citizens to prioritize, this Christmas time, to give gifts over receive.

The office attached to Health included in its letter the gift of time, a word of encouragement, hope or support, knowing how to listen, solidarity and self-love. According to Coss Guzmán, although in December an increase in the suicide rate was not reported, calls to the PAS Line increase and “despair in those people who feel they cannot deal with a situation that causes them a lot of suffering.” Between December 2019 and January 2020, 43 people took their own lives.

“We want, mainly, that people do not make the decision to kill themselves, but rather, if they feel bad, vulnerable or hopeless … that they stay in communication with their loved ones”, emphasized the psychologist.

Similarly, he argued that the support network is the determining factor for a person needing to be hospitalized.

“When a person has and has supportive people around him … the life of that person can be significantly protected,” he said, noting that a weekly phone call or text message can become great lifesavers.

The educational coordinator pointed out that the important thing is to say “I’m here to support you. You mean a lot in my life. Although I cannot be with you physically, I carry you in my thoughts ”.

However, Coss Guzmán stressed that, to care for and watch over the rest, people must be attentive to their needs and that the moment must be found, in the midst of so many responsibilities, in each person to reconnect with himself.

If you frequently feel sad or have feelings of hopelessness for long periods of time or this happens to someone you know, seek help. You can call the PAS Line (Social Assistance Program) at 1-800-981-002.



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