When they pick up the phone and there is a person on the other end who wants to commit suicide, they deploy all their resources to buy time. The clinical psychologist and head of the National Suicide Prevention Area of the Telephone of Hope, Magdalena Perez, explains that, at this time, when there is a planned suicide, when it is not just an idea or a verbalization, from the organization they try to lower the tension and try to offer the user “reasons to live”. “Generally, people who commit suicide do not want to die, what they want is to stop suffering,” he explains to RTVE.es.
Since this week the phone is already in operation 024 for the prevention of suicidal behavior. The Government has launched this line that is free, accessible, anonymous and confidential and will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.
This initiative will try to help people who are in this extreme situation, since it is estimated that they spend approximately 90 minutes between the moment a person makes the firm decision to take their own life and suicide.
Magdalena Pérez explains to RTVE.es how they have been working on the Telephone of Hope for years. When a person contacts them and expresses their desire to take their own life, the person on the other end of the phone tries to “delay the time” of the call a little and “we invite them to seek resources, to seek professional help.”
From the phone of hope they establish another protocol for calls in which there is a suicide in progress. In this “third level” in which something has already been done to take his own life, the institution calls the Emergency Services. However, the volunteers who answer the phone must have the expertise to find out where the user is in order to send the doctors.
“Those calls are calls where there is one last request for help. At that moment we connect with them and value a little what we must do”. Despite the difficulty of the situation, “most people collaborate” by offering their location. Until the Emergency Services arrive, accompaniment is essential. “Our job is to be there and generally we are there until 112 arrives and while we listen to them.”
Listening becomes a key element when dealing with people who exhibit suicidal behaviour. This is how the president of the Mental Health Confederation of Spain, Nel González Zapico, sees it, who considers that “the simple fact of being listened to, of being attended to, even by telephone, already causes a different attitude.”
Calls will be answered individually
The 024 will be one of these lines responsible for alleviating loneliness and serving users who plan to take their own lives and will be managed, for the time being, by the Red Cross.
The Deputy Director of Health of the Red Cross and in charge of directing this project, Fátima Cabello, explained this Monday during the presentation of this initiative that the objective of this telephone is to provide “a quality service in the face of this serious public health problem”. “This is a phone for early detection or suicidal behavior plans.”
Likewise, Cabello pointed out that behind this line there will be a multidisciplinary team that will attend in three shifts, in the morning, in the afternoon and at night. It will be qualified personnel specialized in suicidal behavior and that “they will respond to calls individually”. The 024 protocol will structure calls at different levels. When there is a suicide in progress, “the emergency services will be notified.”
This phone is not only for people who are in danger, it is also for those who want information, for the people around them. “Knowing that there is something that is going to guide us and that is going to support us is essential,” says González Zapico.
During its first day in operation, the service answered about a thousand calls, with an average time for each one of 25 to 30 minutes and some of which were referred to the emergency services.
An inclusive phone
The 024 team will have a service manager11 supervisors and 26 operatorsall of them with experience and knowledge in the management of this type of intervention, since they are estimates that they spend approximately.
As reported by the Ministry of Health, with the aim that all citizens can use 024 in conditions of equality and non-discrimination, the telephone is adapted and will be included a video interpreting service in sign languageas well as a telephone interpreting service that offers the solution to overcome language barriers allowing communication in real time, with people who speak another language.
In addition, the 024 will be connected with the emergency services of the different autonomous communities and cities that will intervene if necessary. “This phone will help professionals to assess the state of the emergency and see if they should quickly mobilize emergency resources such as Municipal Police or Civil Protection,” says the president of the Mental Health Confederation of Spain, Nel González Zapico.
This initiative “It is a very important step”, González Zapico continues, but remembers that “much more is needed, more investment in human resources and economic resources to have mental health properly attended to.”
Pérez also emphasizes this, emphasizing that the telephone lines help those affected to “grab on to life a little”, but then the health services must intervene. “We send them a professional, but if there is no continuity there, or there is no immediacy, then we can be in a similar situation again.”
In Spain, suicide is the leading cause of external death and the leading cause of death in young people. According to data from the INE, in 2020 there were 3,491 deaths by suicide in Spainwhich was 7.4% more than in 2019.
Communication with young people is vital to prevent these behaviors
Mental health problems in minors skyrocketed 54.6% in 2021, according to data from the Foundation for Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk (ANAR).
This association has been working for years through its telephone lines with young people who think of taking their own lives. The director of the organization’s help lines, Diana Díaz, tells RTVE.es that “suicide is a symptom of other problems that are behind it” so it is essential to talk to adolescents.
““The help lines are very important to be able to detect, prevent and intervene in a situation of serious risk”. “
The anonymity provided by these services becomes a key element when it comes to protecting the youngest. “It is that immediate communication, anonymously, confidentially, where the adolescent feels comfortable to talk about any topicof any problem, of their day to day”, emphasizes Díaz. “Many times, as we see, it is not easy to get to talk about a major topic and they start talking about other more everyday topics”.
From the organization, they maintain that suicide is the tip of the iceberg and encourage families who observe a different attitude in their sons or daughters to listen and legitimize their feelings.
A service that also thinks about family members
The phone launched by the Government does not forget people who have lost a family member for this reason. The service will also attend to relatives who need comfort to face such a situation.
For C. Fernández, a relative of a person who committed suicide, “this is a very good initiative”, while calling for “greater help from the public health system”. In Spain there are six psychologists for every 100,000 inhabitants, three times less than the European average, while only 4% of the health budget is dedicated to treating this type of disorder.
Fernández considers that it is important to talk to someone because even if you don’t feel guilty, “you feel a level of involvement” and he would like that from this telephone “certain tools were given to relatives to be able to understand what is happening.”
Suicide, a social taboo
Despite the figures, suicide continues to be a taboo at a social level. Silence has prevailed when it comes to dealing with this issue and initiatives like this put a growing problem in the spotlight. As ANAR’s 2021 annual report reveals, Telephone consultations for suicidal behavior (suicide ideation or attempt) have multiplied almost by 20 in the last decade and those related to self-harm have done so by 56.
The basis for ending the stigmatization that surrounds this behavior is, according to the president of the Association for the Prevention of Suicide and Survivor Care (APSAS), Dario Nogués, normalization. “The basis is to normalize a problem that exists and that affects many people.”
Diaz agrees with him, who considers that “it is extremely important to continue shedding light on this phenomenon, which can obviously be prevented.” In addition, he vindicates the role of the workers who are behind these telephone lines: “Citizens must know that there are professionals who are there to help and so that families know how to act.”
A feeling of community and self-protection can be elements that make this problem visible and that help “people never feel alone or can alleviate that loneliness,” says González Zapico. “The 024 should not be just a telephone in itself, it should be a State strategy where all the initiatives that exist in the different territories come together and above all a culture of protection that ends with the stigma”.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.