Silence reigns on the second floor of the ‘Iwer’ building where the Besarkada-Abrazo Association is located. It is the same silence that prevailed around suicide four years ago when Elena Aisa (1961, Pamplona) decided, together with two other survivors, to create this association of people affected by the self-inflicted death of a loved one. And he did it after the difficult death of his son Markel, realizing the taboo that surrounds pain and the existence of many silent cases around him. Since then, the association has had 120 members, six volunteers and a specialized psychologist to offer individualized attention, guidance and group support to those who are going through this traumatic grief. To get to the headquarters, located at the rear of the aforementioned office building in the La Rochapea neighborhood of Pamplona, you have to take a detour, cross a parking lot, enter through a door located on a corner, go up an elevator to a second floor and look for the hallway behind an access door. They serve behind the first door on the left. But Elena Aisa does not go around to talk about pain and suffering. Moreover, knowing how to speak well of it, he assures, saves lives.
His son committed suicide when he was just 20 years old. How do you deal with such a difficult situation to move forward?
It is terribly difficult to get out of a suicide duel. There are people who find it more difficult than others. When I express what I have experienced, there are people who tell me that perhaps I am exaggerating a little. But no, I’m not exaggerating a hair. In my case, I felt 100% responsible for the death of my son. It feels like you have killed your own son. And there are also facts that corroborate that idea. Facts that I did not attend to well enough. But throughout this grieving process it is about how to live, in addition to grieving for a suicide, one’s own role in that death. In my case, social and family support was essential. And many people in this type of duel do not have it.
In fact, studies show that suicide grief receives the least social support. On the contrary, they usually receive extra pressure from the environment so that the friend or family member recovers as soon as possible. It is a traumatic duel, with psychological mechanisms different from other duels. And as trauma it is much more complex, longer term, more difficult.
How does this change your life? Is exceeded?
In my case, social support has been essential to be able to address the trauma. That and of course turning my life around, a whole series of experiences that appear with that death, because it is a death that marks me as guilty. It is not a death from cancer or from an accident where there are external culprits.
There is a job to rebuild yourself with those new ingredients that break your previous life and your concept of yourself. I thought she was a good mother. And that death leaves me a message: ‘Nothing is a good mother’. You question yourself your whole life. It happens to all of us who face a duel of this type. That is why it is said that this duel supposes a rupture of identity.
On the other hand, I do not like the word overcome, because this is not overcome. What happens next is a different way of living. You will continue to suffer, even if you manage to be happy to continue living. I am no longer who I was, but only suffering has given me a knowledge of myself that I did not have before, more stable and serene.
You speak of a signaling at the individual level, but don’t you think that suicide is also a social problem?
Of course, because it is a social failure. Suicide prevention plans have a part to improve which is to go beyond individual support. Society has to change. We must create a more humane and supportive society so that when a person is suffering they receive not only family support, but also social support. It is necessary to ensure that someone is not stigmatized for being suffering or for having had a suicide attempt. Is a responsibility of all. We are in a society in which if you suffer it is because you want to, and that is a fallacy. It is a false and unnatural positivism. There is a very strong social judgment. We cannot prosecute. The family is also questioned and pointed out a lot. In fact, prevention involves creating support networks that break that loneliness felt and perceived by the people who suffer.
Are we talking more about suicide today than a few years ago?
Yes. When we created the association we created it for that, because there was nothing, only silence. And prevention involves making it visible, otherwise the problem continues and may increase. When I learned that suicide occurs – as in my case – in the most normal families in the world, and not only in unstructured families, I felt a lot of outrage. I had never heard of this topic. Afterwards, the associations have played a very important role. But we ask for even more visibility, not only now, this World Prevention Day or Survivor’s Day. We ask that continuous campaigns be carried out and that people know that 10% of the population is thinking about committing suicide right now. Or that 50% of the general population [según un informe de Chiles y Stroshal, 2014] at some point in your life you have had moderate to severe suicidal ideation. We are talking about more than 3,600 officially killed in Spain by suicide in 2019. But it is the tip of the iceberg because it is estimated that 80,000 people attempt it every year. The problem of suicide also encompasses attempt. And now they are talking. Yes there has been a change in these four years.
If a person hears on television that there are resources, that the person who suffers cannot be judged, that can save him. Knowing how to speak well of suicide saves lives
How should and how should we not talk about suicide?
Always give figures, data and red flags. It is mandatory to post helpful resources every time a suicide is reported such as the Hope Phone or Mental Health resources. Never simplify the causes to one, do not identify anonymous suicides because they do not bring anything. Never publish sensational details such as those about the method. Now with the case of Rocío Carrasco, her suffering was even publicized and questioned. It tells of a person who had a suicide attempt and it is judged whether his suffering was enough or not. And she says at one point that it was a selfish action that embarrassed her. And no. There the media would have to counteract, because you are the ones who have the say: neither shame nor selfishness. If a person hears on television that there are resources, that the person who suffers cannot be judged, that can save him. Knowing how to speak well of suicide saves lives.
80 percent of people who have died by suicide have given many warning signs
Had you had more information – good information – do you think your story and that of other people would have been different?
Yes. I do not know if my son would be alive, I do not know. But it would have been different because I would have done things that I didn’t do. My son verbalized it. He brought his brother and me together and told us: ‘I’m thinking about committing suicide, the idea is not going out of my head.’ He was a student boy, without problems in college or with friends or family. He was joking and cheerful. We knew he was in an emotional low, but I never thought it was a real possibility and less in an ordinary family. And I didn’t understand it. If I had known that one of the highest risk factors is when a person verbalizes it, we would have put more means and we would have seen the seriousness of the situation. There is an erroneous belief that says that whoever really wants to commit suicide does not say so. That is a myth. 80% of people who have died by suicide have given many warning signs.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about suicide?
Let him break with that not talking, that shut up, that conceal. Because we are looking forward to you giving us the opportunity to take care of you, to support you wherever you are, to support you unconditionally. It’s a long process. I would tell you that even if you don’t see it, this will pass. There are examples of other people who have also passed through there, have had suicide attempts and lack of hope, but they are there to give that message that that too will pass. It will be expensive, but it will pass. They will be able to live, because suicide is a desperation to live and not be able to. But I insist that it is not a free decision. Acceptability is called with phrases like: ‘Each one is the owner of his life’. You will be the owner of your life the day you are well and calm to decide.
Suppose I have a friend or family member who tells me that they are thinking about committing suicide. What would you say to me?
The first thing of all is not to be scared. A person who transmits that idea needs accompaniment and listening. How do you do it? Well, saying: ‘It worries me a lot. I want to talk more about how you are. ‘ Start talking and let that person express himself, always keeping in mind that you never have to judge the sufferer in intensities that we will never normally know. These are not objective situations –’The girlfriend left me’-. Suffering is always internal, subjective. Never judge, never moralize or give solutions. Just talk, accompany and encourage the search for help. And normalize. That he is not a freak and that he is not doing things wrong. You have to try to see the situation as that person sees it, put yourself in their place. And from there, do not return to your world of reference, but stay in your world of reference and that your world of reference serves simply to say: ‘I will be by your side, but we will seek help’. We can save a life, but no one guarantees that even if you put all the meat on the grill, you will get it.
How do you think prevention should be approached?
Integrally. In education, mental health and Primary Care. In fact, it is estimated that 18% of people who have committed suicide on the same day had seen their family doctor and 45% did so in the same month [Isometsa E, Heikkinen M, Marttunen M, Henrisksen M et al. 1995]. In addition, 20% went through mental health in the previous month [Luoma JB, Martin CE, Pearson JL. 2002]. And already here, according to the Navarro Institute of Legal Medicine, up to 55% had follow-up in mental health while the rest had not contacted these resources. Prevention necessarily involves increasing human, material and financial resources. The psychologist service in Primary Care must be strengthened.
In Navarra, fortunately in 2014 a protocol for the prevention of suicidal behavior was drawn up, which in its time was a pioneer and in turn an interdepartmental commission was created. Now momentum is building and a specific mental health prevention plan has already been drawn up. But we must not forget that it is not only a mental health problem, it is a problem that must be addressed from all areas. It is necessary to intervene from school, because the bases with which a person manages their suffering are created in childhood and youth. We must teach to recognize our own emotions and those of the other, because we do not know how to accompany. We ask for a National Prevention Plan, as is done with the Trafficking campaigns, because these deaths are also political responsibility. It is proven that a comprehensive plan is the way to reduce suicides and it is not done. Isn’t the responsibility yours? Let them be clear and answer this question for us.
*Data of interest:
Besarkada-Abrazo Phone: 622-207-743
Email: [email protected]