Suicide prevention in prisons: "Feeling useful saved me"

by archynewsycom
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“I wasn’t even crying, I was tense, with my eyes wide, checking everything, they were very difficult moments.” so remember Esther his immediate entry into prison for a crime to which a desperate financial situation led him. Today, from outside her, she appreciates the advice of the psychologist who -as is the norm- visited her the next day. “Don’t worry about the years you have left, worry about the day to day.”

When the doors closed behind her, Esther -a name assumed to guarantee her anonymity- found herself immersed in a universe that in Spain comprised some 56,000 inmates at the end of 2022. Where, regardless of the seriousness of the crimes, the guardianship of health corresponds to the central State, except in Catalonia and the Basque Country, which have jurisdiction over penitentiary matters.

Esther defines herself as “a disciplined person who knows how to be alone”. And that, she says, helped her get ahead. Some can’t. According to Penitentiary Institutions, which depends on the Ministry of the Interior, 33 inmates took their lives in prisons in 2022. To these must be added 14 in Catalonia and one in the Basque Country. It is estimated that the suicide rate in inmates is about six times higher than that of the general population.

Suicide, experts agree, is due to a combination of factors that aggravate the deprivation of liberty. “Prison can be the trigger: the risk factors that a person brings are added to being locked up, to crime, to the feeling of guilt, to being uprooted,” explains José Joaquín Antón Basantamore than 30 years of experience as a prison doctor and president of the Spanish Society of Penitentiary Health.

What are those prior risk factors? reviews them Juan Martínez Pérez, deputy medical director of the Almería – El Acebuche prison. “The most common is the dual pathology, the mixture of a mental illness with an addiction, and it is difficult to know what has happened before. Among the personality disorders, the highest frequency is presented by psychotics, schizophrenia, bipolar”.

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