Foundation series

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention forms a new chapter in Puerto Rico

The enchanting island of Puerto Rico continues to prove its resilience after Hurricane Maria, the pandemic, and a myriad of political issues.

Such a small island – home to many of my family members – has suffered a series of tragedies in less than five years. But even the strongest need support in dark times. And when thoughts as serious as suicide occur, they are often unspoken.

According to a 2018 study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second highest rate of violent death in Puerto Rico after homicide. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, leading to an increase in suicides due to effects such as poverty, deaths, homelessness and billions of dollars in agricultural losses and damages.

To address the unique mental health needs of Puerto Ricans and provide necessary mental health support to those impacted by suicide, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the largest suicide prevention organization in the United States United, formed its new chapter in Puerto Rico. .

Following its official launch in April this year, AFSP’s ongoing efforts include community presentations, events and providing the media with guidelines on how to responsibly cover news involving suicide. Overall, their goal is to increase mental health and suicide prevention education in Spanish and Latino communities.

One of their primary targets in Puerto Rico are churches.

In many religions, suicide is considered a sin. This makes the subject taboo in many churches and religious homes; often, even if someone they knew died by suicide.

Denisse Lamas, Founder of Hispanic Family Counseling, Inc and Chair of AFSP National Council Diversity Task Force and Chapter Leadership Council, said mitu: Pastors play a big role in how people view religion and faith. And faith is really important, but faith can’t watch for signs…so we’re working with faith leaders to make sure science is taken into account and to make sure people get help. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: we want to save lives. »

So far, AFSP has spoken to several churches in Puerto Rico as part of its Talk Save Lives initiative, an introductory community education program focused on Suicide Prevention 101. The program features presentations designed specifically for churches, but also workplaces, correctional facilities, senior centers and another major focus of the new chapter – the LGBTQ+ community.

Suicide risks are higher among members of the LGBTQ+ community due to bullying, family rejection, and not being accepted by society. And no country is immune to hate.

In 2020, two transgender women were burned to death in Puerto Rico. According to The New York Times, outraged activists said the killings were part of a disturbing history of violence against LGBTQ+ people on the island.

As of April 2020, Puerto Rico has seen at least 10 murders of LGBTQ+ people in 15 months. Puerto Rico even declared an emergency declaration amid the ongoing violence. The new AFSP chapter on the island will help bring together community research as it relates to suicide and of course keep them safe.

“We want to save lives, no matter who they are, where they are from, their religion, their origin, their sexual orientation, their gender, whatever…we want to save lives,” Llamas told mitu. “We are an organization that understands that LGBTQA people are high risk people. So we want to reach them. We want to protect them. But we know it will be a challenge because of the culture.

AFSP’s presentations on Talk Save Lives: An Introduction to Suicide Prevention in the LGBTQ community, as well as other types of training based on LGBTQ+ suicide prevention education, are just the beginning of their work.

Suicidal behaviors are another element of the conversations. According to the CDC, suicidal behaviors have increased among Hispanics over the past decade, especially among women and young people. Llamas says there is “a lack of research” for possible reasons for the increase in suicidal behavior in Puerto Rico, which the AFSP will work to change.

However, what is known from evidence and research, she says, “suicide doesn’t happen for one reason…it’s a combination of factors.” They can be environmental, biological or both.

Environmental causes can include bullying, loss of a loved one, heartbreak from a divorce or breakup, loss of a job, or loss of a home. Sometimes people who never had a trace of mental health problems can die by suicide, for example after being bullied too often or after a tragic event.

The biological reasons for suicide are not always as obvious from the outside as the environmental reasons. Biologically, someone struggling with clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder can trace the illness as a partial cause of their suicidal thoughts. But we can’t always recognize if someone has mental health issues causing suicidal thoughts because very often they function well in society and/or are very good at hiding how they feel.

“When someone wants to die by suicide, they have so much pain inside that they feel they can’t take it anymore,” Llamas says. “During those 10 minutes someone thinks they want to die, we have to be very careful and strategic about how to help that person who is ambivalent about wanting to live or die. Usually they don’t want to die. They suffer so much and can no longer bear this burden.

With ongoing research for the AFSP, we’ll uncover the main causes of suicide in Puerto Rico and the best way to prevent suicide on the island.

If someone you know is considering suicide, the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention offers these tips:

  1. Talk to them privately.
  2. Listen to their story.
  3. Tell them you care about them.
  4. Ask directly if they are thinking about suicide.
  5. Encourage them to seek treatment or contact their doctor or therapist.
  6. Avoid debating the value of life, downplaying their problems, or giving advice.

If you are considering suicide, call 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.

To donate, volunteer, or learn more about the Puerto Rico Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, visit or their @afspnational social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram, TwitterTikTok and YouTube.

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