How the pandemic and strict lockdown in Spain caused a mental health crisis

DURING the year 2020, when in spring Spaniards suffered the strictest lockdown in Europe, unable to leave their homes except to seek medical treatment or purchase essentials, the biggest killer amongst the under-50s wasn’t COVID but suicide.

In fact that year, Spain recorded the most deaths by suicides since the turn of the century.

According to Maribel Pizarro, director of Teléfono de la Esperanza de Gipuzkoa – Telephone of Hope – a mental health crisis line in the Basque Country, calls from those on the verge of committing suicide have multiplied five-fold since the pandemic struck.

“In 2019 we received three calls from people who at that time wanted to commit suicide and two years later we received fifteen. It is a very significant and striking increase,” Pizarro told Basque newspaper Diario Vasco.

“We have encountered many cases of women who as young people have suffered domestic violence or sexual abuse. 

“With the uncertainty and fear caused by the pandemic, traumatic situations that seemed to have been overcome emerge and appear strongly,” she said.

Stats From Suicide And Covid
COVID-19 deaths (blue) and suicide deaths (red) (Image: National Statistic Insitute)

The waiting list for referral for mental health treatment can be six months in some of Spain’s regions, a wait that many people cannot bear.

The mental health charity said it had noticed a change in demographics since the pandemic hit.

 Last year 62% of callers were aged between 46 and 65 years old, while 16.8% were over 66 years old and 12.4% were aged between 31 and 45 years old. 

“Before, the highest percentage was among those over 66, but there has been a shift towards younger people who call us,” explains Pizarro.

 Those experiencing a mental health crisis can call 024 which will offer an anonymous and confidential 24-hour service.

Alternatively, help is available at Telephone of Hope (717 003 717) or the Telephone Against Suicide (911 385 385).

For English speakers, the Samaritans offers a freephone service across Spain (900 525 100).

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