On June 28, 2017, Valjova Saavedra decided to jump from a viaduct in Mérida. She was 18 years old. At that time, specialists and researchers had already warned about a surge in the suicide rate in Venezuela, particularly in that Andean region. According to data released by the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, 1,800 people committed suicide in the state of Mérida between 1995 and 2017, the highest number recorded over the last three decades, one hundred and ninety-one of whom did so during this past year.
Isabella Merzagora, a clinical criminologist and professor at the University of Milan, Italy, notes that «suicide risk during an economic crisis is three times higher in individuals who already suffer from some type of physical or psychological illness than in people with no health ailments.» And that was precisely Valjova’s case. Venezuela is undergoing one of the most severe social and economic crises in the continent. Although Valjova had been plagued by suicidal thoughts since she was fourteen, she had found a way to keep them at bay. That was until citizen protests erupted, first in 2014 and then in 2017, with their toll of wounded and killed. Two days after she had been brought out of an induced coma, where she was placed because of the serious injuries she had sustained, repression by the government left four people dead in Barquisimeto, state of Lara. It all made her feel overwhelmed.
Violence from state security forces to control and crack down on street protests has been a persistent practice since 2014. In 2020, demonstrations were mostly of people collectively complaining about gas shortages, which have worsened with time.
In April of that year, Edgar Flores, a young lawyer and psychiatric patient, took part in a protest in his hometown of Churuguara, in the western state of Falcón. Several days later, officers broke into his house and took him into custody. He was among the more than 150 people who had been detained for political reasons between March and September 2020, according to the NGO Venezuelan Education-Action Program on Human Rights (Provea).
At the arraignment hearing, the prosecutor called Edgar’s condition as a psychiatric patient into question. «He should be in a hospital,» she said. Maybe she was unaware of the situation with Venezuelan psychiatric hospitals. The latest National Survey of Hospitals, which considered seven psychiatric hospitals in three states across the country, revealed that they are only about fifty-percent operational, and that’s in a context of heightened demand for psychiatric care, according to Dr. Pedro Delgado, a member of the Venezuelan Society of Psychiatry.
Robertson Lopez is a young man with cognitive deficit, organic psychoses, and psychomotor agitation. He is 22 years old now and has spent his last eight years battling seizures, visiting doctors, and struggling with diapers. For more than one month, he was bedridden at his home in Carorita Abajo, Lara, due to malnutrition. His father, who is unemployed, wanted to have him admitted to the El Pampero Psychiatric Hospital, fearing he could relapse, but they turned him down because they were understaffed and were short on drugs.
Mental patients are relapsing because they cannot afford to purchase the psychotropic drugs they are prescribed, which are sold at sky-high prices, nor can they rely on the public health system for medical care. To narrow the gap, a group of volunteers from the psychiatry and psychology fields took a step forward and offer online services free of charge and, in some cases, private consultations for a low fee. This is what Román González, a volunteer from the Anzoátegui Association of Psychologist and of the Venezuelan Federation of Psychologists of Venezuela, does.
Sicólogos Sin Fronteras [Psychologists without Borders] assisted more than 3,000 people and scheduled over 5,500 appointments between March and September 2020. In the course of those seven months, the number of calls for online assistance increased by 40 percent. The NGO Community Learning Centers (Cecodap) provided psychological assistance to 1,407 individuals, including children and adolescents, during the first semester of the year. Thirty-one percent of them said they were feeling sad, angry, distressed, and burdened by uncertainty, and 20 percent showed symptoms of suicidal ideation.
Confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced interpersonal communication and relations, which has had an impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing and has led to increased levels of depression and anxiety. Thus, the fact that the average suicide rate is a staggering three deaths per day has come as no surprise to specialists. There were 1,150 suicides in the country in 2020, which places it first in the continent, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence.
«Venezuelans are largely overcome by fear, dread, hopelessness, distress, sadness, and rage, which makes them emotionally vulnerable and confused,» said Yorelis Acosta, a clinical and social psychologist and a researcher at the Center for Development Studies of the Central University of Venezuela. The shortage of oral antipsychotic drugs is in excess of 70 percent in the country’s hospitals.
Persistent uncertainty has affected the physical and mental health of Venezuelans. Specialists call it psychosocial trauma. It is a #SilentEmergency. Such is the name of this special issue of La Vida de Nos and its network of storytellers. It features stories on the social and personal traumatic experiences that take a toll on hundreds of mental health patients. They hurt, and they have no help from the Venezuelan State.
If you need help or know someone who does:
Cecodap’s Psychological Service’s lifeline can be reached at +58 414-2696823 and +58 424-2842359. They can also be contacted by e-mail at [email protected]
The Venezuelan Association of Psychoanalysis provides services through its Psychoanalysis Outreach Community Services. You may contact them by telephone at +58 212-5197914, and by email at [email protected].
The Venezuelan Federation of Psychologists offers psychological first-aid and emergency support. Call them at +58 212-4163116/212-4163118 and +58 414-3219557, or email them at [email protected]
The Venezuelan Society of Psychiatry can be reached via Twitter, at @svpsiquiatria; by telephone at +58 426-5196618, and by email at [email protected]
Psychologists without Borders and the Center at the Service of Popular Action (Cesap) provide psychological and social support to people affected by the crisis or in mourning. They can be reached via Twitter at @psfvenezuela, via Instagram at @psfvenezuela, or by phone at +58 424-2925604 and 212-8603885.
Somos Humana’s psychology, psychiatry, addictions, and neurofeedback specialists are available via Twitter at @SomosHumana, via Instagram at @somoshumana, or by phone at +58 412-9250173.
Professionals from the Venezuelan Association of Psychotherapy are available for support via email at [email protected], via Twitter at @avepsi_ve, and via Instagram at @avepsi_ve.
Editors-In-Chief: Albor Rodríguez y Héctor Torres
General Coordinators: Erick Lezama y Martha Viaña
Editorial Coordinator: Gregoria Díaz
Stories by: Gregoria Díaz, Rodolfo Pimentel, Elis Huiza y Simón Núñez
Editor: Quiannette Quero y Reinaldo Cardoza
Visual Content Editor: William Urdaneta
Video Editor: Carlos Carrillo
Organización dedicada a fomentar la memoria y la identidad, a través del arte de contar historias que ayuden a comprender la Venezuela de hoy.