The footprint of the economic crisis raises suicides in Venezuela | International

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On the same weekend in May, a 15-year-old boy and a 37-year-old man threw themselves down a viaduct in Mérida, a city nestled between mountains in the Venezuelan Andes, where about 40% of suicide deaths that occur in the South American country. During this 2023, after a slight decrease, this indicator seems to begin to rebound. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV) has counted up to mid-May 162 suicides throughout the country and 32 attempts, according to media records.

The lack of public statistics and the black box that make up "deaths with undetermined intent", which have been growing in the last two decades in official information, make it difficult to analyze the phenomenon of suicide, which is estimated to be underreported by at least 49% of the cases. But the data published by researchers kindles a concern. "There are 1.2 suicides a day and if this trend continues we will exceed 400 cases at the end of the year, a higher value than in previous years," says geographer Gustavo Páez, director of the OVV in Mérida, who adds that the "Self-inflicted violence in Venezuela is fluctuating at the rate that the humanitarian crisis gives it."

Venezuela does not have the highest suicide rates in South America, led by Guyana, Suriname, Bolivia and Uruguay. It's not even above the global average of about nine deaths per 100,000 people. But between 2015 and 2018 it went from 3.8 to 9.3 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Today the figure is still close to eight and men between 30 and 64 years of age and young people between 15 and 24 are the most vulnerable profiles. In the last two years, there has been a slight decrease that Páez attributes to the massive migration of Venezuelans and a certain economic recovery, but that has not yet gone back to the rates prior to the beginning of what has been one of the biggest economic crises that the world has experienced. oil country, in which the size of its economy was reduced to a third in less than a decade and inequality increased.

Although the researcher warns that suicide is a multifactorial phenomenon in which individual, family and social conditions are combined, the trend this 2023, in which the cracks of this fragile economic improvement begin to be seen, could once again be upwards. “If the situation worsens again, we can expect an increase. Last year there was some recovery, we got out of hyperinflation, but this 2023 the economic slowdown returned and that is beginning to have an impact, that is why we see that many people continue to leave for the Darién. The humanitarian emergency that has not ended combined with individual and family factors take their toll and erode the mental health of the Venezuelan,” Páez points out.

The Psicodata study, presented this year by the Andrés Bello Catholic University, gives an account of the national state of mind. Based on a survey carried out at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023, they found that 90% feel concerned about the national situation, 79% said they felt angry at knowing where Venezuela has come to and 73% are sad to think about the future of the country. country. Four out of 10 Venezuelans assured that their state of mind has often deteriorated for these reasons. For six out of 10 people (64%), the main source of stress is financial problems. The investigation found that the mourning associated with the death or mass exodus of Venezuelans is also affecting the emotional and personal stability of those who remain.

Páez has just finished an investigation based on interviews with relatives and people related to 80 cases of suicides that occurred in 17 rural municipalities of Mérida, which also feed the statistics that place this entity in first place in Venezuela. In at least 21.6% of cases, family problems linked to economic losses, poverty, the impossibility of finding a job, not having enough money to live or even to buy food, and the migration of a family member are among the main risk factors. identified.

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At the same time are the sentimental problems of the couple, the suffering of depression and anxiety disorders and the access to agrochemicals due to the agricultural vocation of these towns, which were determining factors in many of the cases studied. Another group is related to sexist violence that manifests itself in the impossibility of men and women to express emotions and in the bullying by sexual orientation and gender identity.

Mérida lives its share of the crisis that touches all Venezuelans. Among the Andean states, it has been one of the most affected by the blackouts as well as by the fuel shortage, which is why the lines of several days to get gasoline continue to be part of daily life outside the Caracas bubble. “In Mérida, the threshold of frustration is crossed several times a day,” says psychiatrist Stefany Pinto, who runs a support group for people with suicidal ideation —to which between 30 and 50 people attend on a regular basis— promoted by the NGO Movement We are.

“The humanitarian emergency continues to be a problem that has not ended. It is in the regions where it is most perceived. There are many unresolved duels associated with the pandemic and the emergency,” adds Jau Ramírez, in charge of this NGO that defends the rights of the LGBTIQ community and that has opened support groups in other cities of the country such as San Cristóbal, Maracaibo and Caracas. . But in Mérida, home to the Universidad de los Andes, the deterioration of the university from which 60% of students have deserted in the last five years has undermined the economy and morale, specialists agree. “The risk factors for suicide can be many things, from economic precariousness to an HIV diagnosis without having the tools to assume it or gender violence. At the end of April there was a case of a lesbian girl living in a homophobic environment. This is not something that is talked about in our society,” warns Ramírez.

Some 20 years ago, some regional authority built a fortress around one of the viaducts in Mérida to naively prevent people from jumping from what was once a tourist viewpoint of the city into a 70-meter-high void. But in Mérida there are two other viaducts without barriers from which people continue to jump. With this new increase in cases, the government has deployed police officers and firefighters, and religious groups have held masses on these bridges with the same mistaken premise that this way they can prevent new cases.

For those who are working on the issue, these actions are counterproductive, especially when mental health specialists are insufficient, they are not affordable for the majority in a poor country, and care is provided with great limitations in the public system. The economy, which is the main source of stress for Venezuelans, once again marks the approach to this problem, warns Páez: "If someone has 20 dollars in their wallet, before paying for a consultation with a psychiatrist, they will use it in buy some food."

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