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10th September – World Suicide Prevention Day

Today the ELENA Outreach Campaign joins the world in honoring and remembering all those lost to the tragedy of suicide by promoting awareness about this complex and difficult subject. Below you can read detailed information on suicide prevention and the outreach campaign.


The following material was produced in partnership with Instituto Vita Alere de Prevenção e Posvenção do Suicídio ( Vita Alere Institute of Suicide Prevention and Postvention)

ELENA is a story of the loss of a loved one and the recovery of this memory by Petra Costa — director of the film and younger sister of Elena — to transform the inconsolable loss into a working through of mourning and a celebration of life.

Elena is a young theater actress for the renown Brazilian Group Boi Voador who, in the second half of the 80’s, goes to New York in pursuit of her dream of becoming a film actress and meets with a tragic end: she enters the spiral of depression and commits suicide.

Suicide is considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) a global Public Health priority, due to the high number of cases and estimates of increases in the coming years. Suicide pre and postvention are complex tasks, encompassing many processes: from development of public policies and research on the subject, awareness and training of workers in the health area, to local action in schools, social organizations and health services towards guaranteeing the conditions and environment for dialoguing with and receiving a person who is thinking of suicide, who has attempted suicide, and as well, for the survivors of a loved one’s suicide.

Due to its theme and delicateness, ELENA can facilitate talks on the subject, as well as enhance others related to mental health.

Getting to know so as to prevent

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide accounts for 25 deaths daily in Brazil, that is, one per hour, and 3 thousand the world over, besides 60 thousand attempts. Despite the relevance and high incidence, findings by WHO indicate that the problem is neglected.Among relevant aspects, we draw attention to three, which will be dealt with in greater depth in the topics of discussion below.

The first aspect is the stigma on the subject and the need to share information and knock down taboos around suicide. Prevention meets with greater success when people know better the problem. It is necessary to work the prejudices and be aware of some basic data on the subject. All can be agents of transformation in this sad reality.

This aspect also includes the prevention of suicide among youth, since over the past 50 years, across the world, the peaks in rates of suicide have shifted towards this age group.

In Brazil, suicide is the third cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 35, coming 3rd only to homicides and traffic accidents. And, unfortunately, the numbers don’t stop rising, indicating that something specific must be done. In this sense, it is desirable to promote safe, welcoming spaces for dialoguing on the subject with the youth. These spaces should be thought and accessed, especially, in cases of occurrences of suicides, or attempts at suicide, in schools, for example.

The second aspect refers to other issues of mental health considered relevant to suicide prevention. Certain mental disorders– such as depression, alcoholism, schizophrenia– are factors that predispose to suicidal behavior, but many times are not detected or not adequately treated. Informing the population on how to identify mental illness, available treatments, effectiveness, and where to get emotional support makes it possible for many people to seek assistence, which ultimately, can prevent suicide.

The third aspect deals with mourning the suicide, supporting the survivors and postvention activities.

It is important to point out that the three aspects are here presented separately only for didactic ends and to facilitate reflection, for in practice they are interrelated and inseparable, it being possible to workthem also in sequence. To break taboos and prejudices round suicide promotes and facilitates mental health support and the prevention of suicide, besides providing information and receptiveness to survivors.

Thus, the issues raised by the film ELENA, as well as the showing of parts of the film and of ensuing discussions, can:

  • encourage the creation of receptive spaces for dialoguing about mental health with younsters in schools and social organizations.
  • serve as subsidy to permanent education of health professionals in accordance with the principles of integrity and humanization and make society conscious that suicide is a public health problem that must be prevented. Once various mental disorders are associated with suicide, early detection and adequate treatment of these conditions are important factors in its prevention.
  • Sensitize people, diminishing the stigma and facilitating the search for specialized help whenever there is the suspicion of a chance of suicide as well as enhancing support of those mourning a suicide.

In the next sections, we propose as starting points for discussion:

Let’s speak about suicide? And preventing suicide among youngsters?

According to a study carried out by Unicamp (University of Campinas),Brazil, 17% of Brazilians, at some moment, thought seriously of putting an end to their own lives, and of these, 4,8% actually worked out a plan for such. To think about suicide is part of human nature. The impulse also is a natural reaction; however, it is more common among people who are inwardly exhausted and emotionally fragilized confronted with situations that awaken the possibility of suicide.

Most of the time, nevertheless, it is possible to prevent these suicidal thoughts and impulses from coming true. To speak openly about thesubject, know the main causes of and means of helping can be the first step to reducing the rates of suicide in Brazil and worldwide. ELENA opens the way for frank talks on the subject.

Promoting mental health

Mental disorders associated with previous attempts at suicide are considered the highest risk factor for suicide. Despite these disorders being an important risk factor, it is worth reminding that suicide is multifactorial, so that not all suicides are related to a mental disorder,and not every person striken with mental disorder will have suicidal behavior.

The film presents us moments in which Elena speaks of or demonstrates that something is not well, something terrible is happening, and these moments can serve as examples to observe someone potentially at risk.

For those who left behind: support for survivors

For each suicide that takes place, many people left behind need to deal with the pain of the loss. These people are called survivors. Mourning of itself is a natural process and expected in dealing with death; however, mourning in the case of a suicide has specific characteristics and issues that need to be worked through– for instance, feelings of guilt, shame and the incessant search for a why. Research shows that effects of this mourning tend to be more intense and lasting.

It is also the duty of schools to welcome and adequately receive youngters and children who are undergoing mourning over a suicide or an attempted suicide. In cases where found relevant, parts of ELENA followed by a debate can help sensitize participants and promote a healthy discussion on matters raised by the youth.

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