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Antioquia: Mental health figures worry experts and authorities – Medellín – Colombia

With 21.01 percent of cases nationwide, authorities in Antioquia are on alert for suicide cases that have the department as the region with the highest number of this type of events registered between January 1 and 21 of this year.

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According to preliminary data from Legal Medicine, in said period of time there have been 29 cases in the department; It is followed by Bogota, with 24. A panorama that draws attention if one takes into account that in the first 11 months of 2022 the cases in Antioquia represented 17.53 percent of the entire country, according to Legal Medicine.

As of November last year, the department had registered 453 cases and in 2021, 431, indicate the reports of Legal Medicine. The data changes, although the panorama is similar, if the Dane statistics are reviewed, which are used by the Antioquia Health Secretariat for its measurements. Until last October 31, they had been preliminarily accounted for 391 cases and in 2021, 480.

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Between 2015 and 2021 there was an increase in the suicide rate, it went from 6.1 cases per 100,000 inhabitants to 7.2. Nationally, according to Dane, the suicide mortality rate was 6 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. However, the department occupies box 12 nationwide.

What do the experts say?

It is the result of a form of organization and it is not only the responsibility of public or private entities, but of all of us.

The experts are emphatic in pointing out that it is a global and multidimensional problem. “This is not an issue that is due to the pandemic and that is happening only in Antioquia. It is increasing worldwide due to many factors in lifestyle changes. There are elements that were not identified 11 years ago and now we have to begin to touch them”, says Juliana Castaño, coordinator of the Health for the Soul program of the Antioquia Governor’s Office.

While, the doctor in Psychology and professor at the CES University of Medellín Juan Carlos Jaramillo explains that, although it is a problem that was already on the rise, the pandemic accelerated it. “We are talking about fears, anxieties, anguish and insecurities, but also extreme situations with families locked up with all the economic problems and violence.”

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Although the number of suicides showed a decrease in cases by 2020, the academic attributes this situation to the fact that, during crises, support networks and care for others are strengthened. Nevertheless, When crises pass, networks weaken and “every man for himself”. Hence, cases have increased by 6.9 percent by 2021.

“This is a phenomenon that we have to understand as a social emergent. It is the result of a form of organization and It is not only the responsibility of public or private entitiesbut of all of us”, points out the academic.

For example, in the individual order, the prevalence of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and personality disorders has been found, which according to experts are increasing significantly.

“That must be given therapeutic attention, but be careful, that is not the only thing. we are also finding many difficulties at a social level in terms of support networks and the sense of belonging with them, we are increasingly alone”, explains Jaramillo.

Statistics indicate that, in the last two years, between a 79 and 80 percent of deaths by suicide in Antioquia occurred in menswhile 21 and 20 percent, in women.

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As to suicide attemptsfigures from the National Public Health Surveillance System (Sivigila) show that by 2021, of the 4,482 reported cases in Antioquia, 66.2 percent were in women and 33.8 in men.

If age is taken into account, Castaño emphasizes: “The figures show us that the population between 14 and 29 years of age is the one that currently has the highest risk of suicide. And it is with the population that we have to generate more protective factors with prevention and promotion programs”.

In 2021, for example, the 66.2 percent of suicide attempts in Antioquia occurred in people between that age range, according to Sivigila

At the individual level, experts have pointed out the prevalence of depression, anxiety, panic attacks. However, it is not the only thing. There are also difficulties in support networks.

Prevention measures

If a person is saying that they are or have thought about killing themselves, they must be seriously listened to. The first thing is to take it seriously and say ‘how so?’, ‘what are you saying to me?’

Being a multidimensional problem, suicide prevention measures must come from different fronts and not exclusively from public or private entities and even the health system itself, according to experts.

Dr. Jaramillo comments that some psychological first aid actions can be taken into account at home to treat nearby cases. “If a person is saying that he is or has thought about killing himself, you have to listen seriously. The first thing is to take it seriously and say ‘how so?’, ‘what are you telling me?’. It is an attitude of taking care of something that is serious, ”she details.

The next step is to listen to the person and do not minimize the situationsince suicidal behaviors should not be blamed or ashamed.

“Do not leave the person alone, that is, don’t say “we’ll talk later” or “here we are looking, I’m very busy right now”. You offer company if you feel able to listen to it. If I have someone who has these ideas and I think they may require immediate attention, I receive it, I contain what is happening and alternatives are sought”, Jaramillo points out.

Some of these alternatives have been deployed by the authorities in Antioquia. One of them is the metal health care line with the number 604 540 7180 in the Aburrá Valley and 018000413838 throughout the department.

“What they are looking for is to generate care for life. This line last year received more than 6,000 calls, but 2,000 of them were related to suicide. We did follow-up, accompaniment, traceability to these people. We can say that we saved his life”, comments Alexánder Herrera, director of Collective Health of Antioquia.

To that they add protective nets in 82 municipalities that are confirmed by the community itself, from the owner of the store to the teacher or the village psychologist.

“There are people who need to be heard. Protective environments start from school, in life courses and move into adulthood”, Herrera details. Likewise, on the Salud para el Alma website there are virtual training programs available for health professionals.

In Medellin, Mental Health Friendly Line It works 24 hours a day and can be communicated through 604 444 44 48.

21,817 people have been treated in the listening centers established by the Medellín mayor’s office in recent years


Medellin’s town hall

The listeners

In 2022 we detected 96 people in the system that we were able to attend to on a priority basis and more than 6,000 people came to our listeners

In September 2020, the Medellín Mayor’s Office presented the strategy of the listenersa space for free psychological care and guidance to attend to the mental health of citizens.

Today there are 64 and three of them are located in the stations Acevedo, San Antonio and Aurora of the Metro, in an alliance with the Mayor’s Office and the Valle de Aburrá Metropolitan Area.

“In 2022 we detected 96 people in the system that we were able to attend to as a priority and more than 6,000 people came to our listeners and they were the object of attention by psychologists”, says Hugo Loaiza, coordinator of the Social Management of the Metro.

In these stations there is a private place for the care of people who require it. There they can find a psychology professional, who is in charge of the respective orientation of the patient in the required time. This service has no cost and it works from Monday to Saturday, between 8 in the morning and 8 at night, depending on availability.

Even, if necessary, a care route to a care center is activated or the City Hall’s golden code is activated for emergency care in situations that affect mental health.

“There are people who we have cared for alone, others who have come in as a couple, others that we have cared for as a family at first attention. They have also returned with their family group to look for the psychologist with the intention of thanking them”, says Loaiza.

Due to expert recommendations, the Medellín Metro does not disclose information on the number of suicide cases that have occurred in the system. Nevertheless, Strategies have been advanced to prevent this type of situation and today more than 1,000 people in the company are trained in psychological first aid.

(Check here all the news from Medellín and Antioquia from EL TIEMPO)

The listeners program is guaranteed, at least, until the end of 2023 and its continuity will depend on the next administration.

Finally, experts remind the importance of talking about suicide, not from myths and taboo, but from reality of a problem that affects the population with changes in lifestyles in recent years.

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