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Venezuela: a suicide city, the capital of the Andes fights for life – 08/13/2022 at 11:20


A student shows scars on her arm after attempting suicide in Merida, Venezuela, on August 3, 2022 (AFP/Miguel Zambrano)

Firefighter Henri La Cruz jumps off his motorcycle and races to rein in a 21-year-old man who was about to jump over a flyover in Mérida, an Andean city in western Venezuela.

A 42-year-old lifeguard can rarely save a life in this region where the suicide rate is inexplicably much higher than the national average of 30 million people.

The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), the benchmark in the absence of recent official figures, estimates the number of suicides in Venezuela at 1,164 in 2021, at a rate of 4.3 per 100,000 inhabitants. In Merida, that rate is more than double, or 9.9 per 100 thousand.

In 2016, the Ministry of Health recorded 843 suicides in this country, of which 97 were in the state of Mérida, whose population does not exceed 860 thousand.

There is no study that explains this shocking trend, but the regional authorities launched a prevention campaign at the end of July to try to curb this phenomenon, particularly through debates and conferences in schools.

Venezuelan firefighter Henri La Cruz displays a photo on his mobile phone where he talks with a young man who was attempting suicide and who managed to save him, in Merida, Venezuela, August 1, 2022 (AFP/Miguel ZAMBRANO)

Venezuelan firefighter Henri La Cruz displays a photo on his mobile phone where he talks with a young man who was attempting suicide and who managed to save him, in Merida, Venezuela, August 1, 2022 (AFP/Miguel ZAMBRANO)

“We must teach society (…) that people stop taking this as a taboo, and lose their fear of uttering the word + suicide +”, reckons regional councilor Fabiana Santamaria. “It’s not just about telling people not to attempt suicide, it’s about giving them the tools to live and fall in love with life.”

Henri La Cruz explained that patrols in high-risk locations had increased, noting that at the time of the young man’s rescue, he was responding to another emergency call related to another possible suicide. He was looking for a victim under the bridge, in the river, or in the surrounding vegetation when he noticed the young man on the bridge.

– ‘As you could’ –

“When we arrived the sirens were on, he turned around and climbed the barrier… I grabbed him by the arm, made his way out but pulled him as far as I could get into the road,” he said.

Then the two men talked for more than two hours before the young man was convinced not to end his life.

On the railing of the bridge where he was rescued by Henri La Cruz, a religious group put up a poster that read: “Suicide is not your end. In God’s heart is a story with your name.”

“We have found that suicidal thoughts or attempts at suicide are highly present in particularly vulnerable groups” due to their sexual orientation or economic status, Jao Ramirez, director of the NGO Somos, told AFP. The community runs support groups.

Depression is one of the main causes of suicide, according to the OVV, which lists cases reported in the press and partial reports from authorities.

When her husband left her overnight, leaving her alone with her four children, Tylan Beltran made an attempt on her life. “I burned myself,” she recalls.

A physiotherapist, she overcame her crisis and works with people with disabilities at an NGO while relieving patients from suicidal thoughts.

Poster with a religious message calling for contemplation of suicide stuck on a bridge in Mérida, Venezuela, where many people have taken action, on August 3, 2022 (AFP/Miguel Zambrano)

Poster with a religious message calling for contemplation of suicide stuck on a bridge in Mérida, Venezuela, where many people have taken action, on August 3, 2022 (AFP/Miguel Zambrano)

She explains that “knowing what it feels like to hit rock bottom” allows her to better help them. “Knowing how to talk to them and knowing how to understand them.”

The helpline of the Federation of Psychologists is open to those who feel helpless, but experts consider this initiative insufficient, the region suffers from many shortcomings at the level of programs and specialized health centers.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is one in every 100 deaths worldwide.

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