Misc 28/11/2020

Young people between 18 and 29 years old call the suicide prevention phone the most

Barcelona City Council promotes a pioneering service

3 min
El voluntari Joaquim Vendrell atén el telèfon de prevenció del suïcidi.

BarcelonaJoaquim Vendrell says that the first time the suicide prevention phone rang, his heart was racing. "I answered and it was a woman who had made a mistake: she was asking about Gas Natural". Since August 5th there is a suicide prevention phone, 900925555 (it is important to memorize it). It is the first in Spain that is public and free and that works 24 hours a day. It has been promoted by Barcelona City Council, despite being managed by the Ajuda i Esperança (Help and Hope) foundation, which was already in charge of the mythical Telephone of Hope.

Vendrell is one of the many volunteers who answer the phone. He is 60 years old and used to be the purchasing manager of a German multinational, but since he took early retirement after suffering from cancer he has been a volunteer. And that's how he came to the suicide prevention hotline. Before that, however, he had already volunteered for three years on the Telephone of Hope, although, he says, one phone has nothing to do with the other.

"The Telephone of Hope is completely anonymous and the aim is to accompany the caller, who normally feels alone", explains Vendrell. The calls usually last about half an hour. On the suicide prevention phone, however, the first thing the caller hears is a message warning that the conversation will be recorded. In fact, Vendrell's goal is to identify the caller and avoid something as horrible as taking his or her own life. The calls can last two hours.

"Sometimes when you pick up, the first thing you hear is crying", he explains. Then, he says, it's an exercise in empathy, patience, and looking for ways that will tie that person to life. And also looking for reasons to convince them to be referred to the mental health network. Because, in fact, this is the other purpose of the telephone: to act as a bridge with the health system. During all calls, there is also a second support person in case an ambulance or any other emergency service needs to be activated.

Amount of calls

Despite the short time that the phone has been in operation, it is surprising to see the large number of calls received: 384 between August 5 and October 30, according to data provided by the Barcelona Health Councillor, Gemma Tarafa. The most striking thing is that those who call most are young people who are between 18 and 29 years old. Most of the users are women, up to 80%. "The World Health Organization estimates that for every suicide, there are 20 attempts", the councillor warns. Therefore, this would be just the tip of the iceberg.

"Deep down, the caller is looking for help to avoid doing what is going on in his or her mind", says Vendrell. This means not commiting suicide. He also says that some people he has talked to have called the suicide prevention hotline because their doctor's visit with mental health services had been postponed due to the pandemic. In other words, they were using the phone as a last hope.

Need for volunteers

In fact, the psychologist and technical coordinator of the suicide prevention service of the Ajuda i Esperança Foundation, Sergio García Díaz, explains that they are looking for more volunteers to answer the phone. They now have a few more than 60 and need at least 90. The goal is for each one to work 10 hours a month, in day or night shifts. But first they have to receive training from psychologists and psychiatrists, and they are also asked to have already volunteered at the Telephone of Hope. According to García Díaz, they use volunteers because they tend to show more motivation, empathy and patience than a hired person. "In most western countries around us there are suicide prevention phones that work with volunteers", he says. We have just started.