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Venezuela’s suicide epicenter battles more deaths

#Venezuelas #suicide #epicenter #battles #deaths

Henry La Cruz jumps off his motorcycle and dashes towards a young man and grabs him just before he jumps off a viaduct.

The 42-year-old firefighter, who works in Venezuela’s Merida state, the region in the country with the highest suicide rate, isn’t always so lucky.

Last year, Venezuela recorded 4.3 suicides per 100,000 people, according to estimates by the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV), but in the western Andean state of Merida, that number more than doubled at 9.9.

There are no studies to explain the high suicide rate in the peaceful mountainous nation of 860,000, where agriculture and tourism fuel the economy.

The Ministry of Health recorded 843 suicides in 2016, mostly men, including 97 in Merida, according to the latest data.

At the end of July, local authorities launched a suicide prevention campaign and offered free specialized help.

“We have to train society … so that people stop seeing this as taboo, so they stop being afraid to mention the word suicide,” regional lawmaker Fabiana Santamaria told AFP.

The first step is to give lectures in schools to raise awareness about suicide and how to prevent it.

“It’s not just telling someone not to attempt suicide, it gives them the tools to live and fall in love with life.”

Authorities have increased the frequency of patrols in locations at high risk of suicide attempts.

La Cruz said he was responding to an emergency call about another possible suicide when he saved the life of the 21-year-old on the viaduct in the state capital, also known as Merida.

– ‘Know the bottom’ –

While searching under the bridge and in the river and vegetation around them for the other potential victim, he spotted the young man.

When La Cruz came to him, “the siren went off. He turned and climbed onto the railing.”

“I jumped off the (motorcycle), threw myself on him and grabbed him. He tried to get away but I pulled him onto the sidewalk with all my might.”

The two spoke for two hours before La Cruz convinced him not to end his life.

On one of the railings of the viaduct, a religious group posted messages that read: “Suicide is not your end. There is a story in the heart of God that bears your name.”

Jau Ramirez, director of the SOMOS LGBTQ+ group, told AFP that “we found that suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts are very common in groups that are particularly vulnerable because of their sexual orientation or economic situation.”

Depression is one of the most important triggers for suicide attempts, says the OVV, which collects information from the press and partial reports from the authorities.

Thais Beltran attempted suicide after her husband suddenly abandoned her and their children overnight.

“It ate me up,” said the physical therapist.

She now works for an NGO that helps people with disabilities and others with suicidal thoughts.

“Knowing what it feels like to know the bottom” gives her the expertise to work with vulnerable people, she says, including “knowing what to say, listening.”

The Venezuelan Association of Physiotherapists has set up a dedicated phone line to offer support, but experts say it’s not enough given the lack of funding for psychiatric help and health centers in Merida.

According to the World Health Organization, one in 100 deaths worldwide is suicide.

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#Venezuelas #suicide #epicenter #battles #deaths

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