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Uruguay, the worst in the Americas for suicides, reached a new record for self-murders in 2021

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In the first place, he referred to the role played by the pandemic in this issue. One of them is that Uruguayans “learned little” from the health situation regarding these issues, which not only involve suicide, but also the processes of death and mourning. “We learned little to culturally deal with these instances of grief and mourning that we had as a result of the pandemic”, he said

Uruguay has been struggling for years with suicide, a problem that places the country at first place in the Americas. Despite the fact that Uruguay has been positioned by many indicators as one of the most advanced countries in terms of socioeconomic equality in the least egalitarian region of the world, where access to health and solid institutions with low corruption rates is relatively guaranteed in relation to its neighbors in the region, the Uruguayan Ministry of Public Health (MSP) reported that last year there were 758 suicides, which is equivalent to a rate of 21.39 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

The figure exceeds the figure reached during the crisis at the beginning of the century, which was 20.6 per 100,000 inhabitants and, on the other hand, is explained by the increase in self-harm among men as opposed to women’s figures. Uruguay has been struggling for years with suicide, a problem that places the country among the top twenty in the world and the one with the highest figures in the Americas.

The year 2021 was a particular year because it was the second year under the health emergency and the one that reached record figures in this type of deaths, even surpassing the records of 2002, a year marked by a strong economic crisis in the Río de la Plata, which caused various social consequences.

The sociologist, professor, researcher of the University of the Republic and member of the Group of Understanding and Prevention of the Suicidal Behavior in Uruguay, Pablo Hein, talked last Wednesday with VTV , where he analyzed the subject and deepened in some aspects.

In the first place, he referred to the role played by the pandemic in this issue. One of them is that Uruguayans “learned little” from the health situation regarding these issues, which not only involve suicide, but also the processes of death and mourning. “We learned little to culturally deal with these instances of grief and mourning that we had as a result of the pandemic”, he said.

Uruguay‘s position among the 20 countries with the highest suicide rates “is not necessarily due to the good record we have, because if we delve into this issue we also detect a medical underreporting of suicide,” said the sociologist.

“If we look at the suicide figures and divide the population into three large strata, the problem is concentrated in the elderly, those over 60-65 years of age,” he said. And although the rate in young people between 15 and 19 years of age “does not reach double digits”, the sociologist reflected on some of the causes that could provoke it.

The expert detailed that the suffering or mourning of the family that suffers this type of death is “eternal and constant” because the relatives of the victims are unable to find an explanation for the death, a process that collaborates with the mourning.

“When a death occurs what we do is try to explain that event, how it happened, what it was, to address the stage of grief. Then, when we manage to understand, we begin to go through the pain and grief in mourning. Mourning is a collective process, it is a rite. If I am able to explain this death, surely this mourning will have a much more harmonious collective, cultural and social transit. In the case of suicide, the victims or survivors cannot explain the death because it is violent, unexpected,” he analyzed.

“As a sociologist, I have a collective perspective on the phenomenon. We are still concerned about the focus of the issue (only) on mental health and individual behavior. The question we should ask ourselves is: why has this phenomenon been stable for 30 or 40 years? If it is an individual problem, why does it remain stable, why do we have the highest rate in the Americas, from Canada to Argentina?,” he asked.

In this sense, Hein said that no parameter or characteristic of Uruguay explains such a high suicide rate, but that the pattern is “cultural and social”, although the factor “is not unique”. “The countries that managed to curb or reverse the cause had a differential behavior. One thing is prevention, intervention and postvention, which basically works with the family. There is no exclusive determinant,” he explained, and highlighted Chile and Colombia as examples.

The sociologist asked not to compare himself with the Guyanas or Ecuador because the mortality registry of those countries is “very weak”. In his opinion, Uruguay should measure itself with Chile, Argentina, Canada, the United States or Cuba, which have better records.

“Cuba has an index that in the imaginary is considered high, but six or eight years ago it managed to lower them with a strong policy in prevention, in the family doctor. It uncapsulated the emergency issue,” he commented.