The recent death of Spanish actor Veronica Forqué, shines the focal spotlight on suicide and the difficulty of living.
Death by suicide is the primary cause of unnatural death in Spain and causes more deaths than traffic accidents. In 2020 3,941 people gave up living and took their own lives. What is surprising is the mediatic impact that her tragic death has had. Suicide is very rarely reported in the press in response to what is known as the Werther effect. A term coined by sociologist David Phillips based on the book by Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther, where the protagonist commits suicide. Phillips claimed that after the New York Times published an article on suicide, the number of suicides in the city increased and since then a pact by news companies has kept suicide out of the press.
Given the important risk factors, as well as the delicacy required to cover suicides, suicide-related news is only published when the processing of the information can have a preventive effect on suicidal behavior. The theory of the ‘Papageno Effect’ indicates that exposure to information about people who have faced crisis in a positive way and without suicidal behavior exerts a protective effect.
The dimension of the health problem posed by the suicide data in Spain has caused the trend in the media to report news that addresses this problem from a preventive perspective. The great taboo has been collapsing in recent months, perhaps due to the magnitude of the figures, but also because of a society increasingly concerned that mental health should have the same importance as physical health in Spain.
Requests from various platforms to political parties to address this problem has increased notably in the last legislature. According to the EFE agency, the proportion of clinical psychologists is 6 per 100,000 current inhabitants, compared to the 18 on average in the European Union. There are 9.6 psychiatrists in Spain for every 100,000 inhabitants, far behind countries such as Poland, Finland and Belgium with 24; 23 and 20 respectively.
The social debate on suicide is neither easy nor straightforward. Mental health involves multiple variables that can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviours. There are also many false myths that surround suicide and relate it to cries for attention. This summer, within the framework of the conference of regional presidents, the head of the Consell, Ximo Puig, showed a clear concern for mental health and called for “a shared strategy between the autonomies.” “We are very concerned about the suicide rate,” said the head of the Consell. Last year, 82 Valencians between the ages of 20 and 39 took their own lives, 30% more than the year before the start of the pandemic. The young population is precisely the age group most affected by this problem.