Every 40 seconds a person dies by suicide in the world. In Spain there are 10 deaths every day due to this public health problemIt kills twice as many traffic accidents and against which, surprisingly, there is no national prevention strategy. This is one of the issues on which science could help decision-makers, according to those in charge of Science in Parliament, an unprecedented initiative in Spain whose objective is to create a permanent service of scientific advisors in the lower house. which already exists in other EU countries.
The initiative It has involved more than a hundred scientists, 24 technicians who have gathered the existing evidence on different topics, and 75 deputies from all the political groups that will attend the presentations. The active prevention of suicide in Spain is the first topic that is treated today during the second and last day. The mathematician Berta Ibáñez and the law graduate María Valvidares will explain the Zero Suicides project that was launched in Detroit (USA) in 2001 among 200,000 participants. The intervention tried to coordinate all the medical professionals involved in this problem and treat the matter in an open manner. For example, instead of following the usual pattern of treating patients who had already attempted suicide, primary care physicians began to ask all of their patients two things: how many times had they felt sad in the last two weeks and how many Have you sometimes felt little pleasure in doing something?
Eight years later, the suicide rate had gone from 90 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants to zero in 2009. Although the rate increased again in the following years, it remained at around 20 per 100,000, an 80% reduction. The project inspired the US national suicide strategy that has been underway since 2012.
In Europe, the Nuremberg Depression Alliance demonstrated a 24% reduction in the number of suicidal acts among participants in a prevention program compared to the control population of Würzburg. The intervention at four levels – training primary care doctors, a public awareness campaign, cooperation with teachers, the media, priests … and support for risk groups – inspires the European Alliance against Depression, funded by the EU.
The president of Congress is committed to creating a scientific office before the end of this term
"What the politicians need to know is that the prevention of suicide is possible, but only if measures are applied at all levels and they are maintained over time," explains Diego Palao, director of Mental Health at the Parc Taulí University Hospital (Barcelona) "In the 10 years that we have been applying European strategy measures, we have managed to reduce the recidivism rate after a first attempt at suicide from 16% to 6%," he adds.
Other measures that have proven effective are limiting access to lethal methods (for example selling only the necessary doses of a drug and not a whole package) as well as conducting prevention campaigns in schools. "Against the taboo that continues to dominate this issue in Spain, talking about it in schools allows us to reduce suicide rates," says Celso Arango, a psychiatrist at the Gregorio Marañón Hospital in Madrid. "In this subject, we need more technique, more science, and less politics. What needs to be done now is to launch the national mental health strategy, which is in preparation since 2012 and has not yet been approved and which includes a national plan for the prevention of suicides, "he points out.
As in other issues, it is also important that legislators know the limitations of science. For example, it is very difficult to demonstrate a cause-effect relationship in this field, but it does show a correlation between the measures and the reduction of deaths. Although science is not infallible, "informed decision-making increases the chances of success," says Climent, the initiative's promoter. In these two days have been treated 11 other topics such as aging and health, pollution by plastics, climate change, big data and artificial intelligence, water management or refugees and integration, in which scientific evidence can improve the quality of the political debate .
The president of the Congress, Ana Pastor, promised yesterday to create a permanent scientific office "before the end of this term." "We need an independent and permanent source of information for legislators" on science and technology, Pastor said in his speech and cited other examples in which it is necessary such as euthanasia and palliative care.
The project is still in early stages and does not have its own budget. Its promoters want to make sure that it does not remain in a kindly isolated act. As an initial step, the legal service of the chamber is making a report on equivalent bodies in other countries, explains Andreu Climent, head of the initiative. His favorite is the office of the British Parliament, which highlights that has a board in which half of the members are elected by political parties and the other half scientists chosen by other scientists, ensuring that their documents are accepted as reference beyond political ideas. For Jorge Barrero, general director of the Cotec Foundation that supports the initiative, "this is the first time that science as an institution enters Parliament not to ask, but to give, and it would be very good if this were permanent."