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Victória Sales and Luís Henrique Oliveira – from Cenarium

MANAUS – Suicide is a public health problem, with impacts on society as a whole. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that, worldwide, more than 700,000 people die by suicide annually, and it is the fourth leading cause of death for young people between 15 and 29 years old. In this context, evidence has shown even higher suicide risks among groups in situations of greater vulnerability, such as migrants and refugees, the LGBT population, and indigenous people.

At this point, the North region stands out, where the largest proportion of the country’s indigenous population is concentrated, according to data from the Epidemiological Bulletin of the Ministry of Health, released this month reinforcing data from 2020. According to doctoral student, anthropologist, and leader of the Kaiowá people, Valdelice Véron, poverty, historical and cultural factors, low welfare indicators, disintegration of families, social vulnerability, lack of meaning in life and future, scarcity of land, difficulties in managing intergenerational conflicts, withdrawal of young people from traditional subsistence activities, and having a relative who died by suicide were pointed out as motivators for the high suicide rates among indigenous people. “Actually there are several reasons, one of the main factors is the issue of our lands that are invaded, and these conflicts never end and bring all this violence”, he said.

The Report on Violence against Indigenous People, released by the Indigenous Missionary Council (Cimi), recorded 101 suicides of indigenous people in the country in 2020. The highest numbers occurred in Amazonas (39 cases), Mato Grosso do Sul (32 cases) and Roraima (10).

Indigenous chief talks to members of the village (National Indigenous Mobilization/Promotion)

Valdelice also informed that these issues are different in Indigenous Land (TI) and Indigenous Reserves. “In the reservations, when our ruler does this, he doesn’t observe our way of life. Besides, there is no autonomy there. We are attacked by gunmen and all this is very complicated, and it is a problem that needs to be discussed”, she reported.

The indigenous leader also reports that the issue needs to be further discussed by the government. “To get an idea, there is the problem of conflict that triggers losses. Violence is triggered in these conflicts and there is a moment when the indigenous people are alone and end up resorting to suicide as if it were a way out, and we know that it is not.
I myself have already lost many relatives to suicide, the last two in the last week. They were 19 and 23 years old. A great loss. And to combat this, it is necessary that our government leaders make firmer government actions, listening to real indigenous people and executing these actions in the best way possible”, he reaffirmed.

According to recent data from the Ministry of Health, mortality by suicide is high among indigenous men, being 23.1 deaths per 100 thousand inhabitants, while the rate for white men is 9.5, and black men 7.6 deaths. Among indigenous women the rate is also higher (7.7), in comparison with white (2.7) and black (1.9).

Alarming when compared to the national average. Brazil registered an average of 5.8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, the majority between 15 and 29 years of age. In the indigenous population it was almost three times higher than the national average, 15.2 records per 100,000, with 44.8% being young people between the ages of 10 and 19.

Difference

A striking factor among suicide risks is the gender distinction. Men have a higher risk compared to women when it comes to death by suicide. “These differences have been associated with greater aggression and a higher intention to die among men, leading to the employment of more lethal methods, greater access to firearms and other lethal objects, and greater susceptibility to the impacts of economic instabilities among men”, the bulletin stated.

Also according to the document, studies have shown an even higher risk for suicide in indigenous populations. According to a study in Roraima, the risk of suicide is 74% higher among indigenous compared to non-indigenous people. In Amazonas, a suicide death rate of 18.4 per 100,000 was identified among indigenous people, 4.4 times higher than the non-indigenous population, with 4.2 per 100,000. However, among indigenous people the highest risk was observed among young people aged 15 to 24 years, among non-indigenous people, the highest risk was found among the elderly.

The writings of sociologist Émile Durkheim, who lived in the last century, show that every society is predisposed to provide a certain contingent of voluntary deaths, and what interests sociology about suicide is the analysis of the whole social process, of the social factors that act not on isolated individuals, but on the group, on the whole society. Every society has, at every moment in its history, a defined attitude toward suicide.

Prevention actions

Among the main prevention strategies is the need to have a greater involvement between government leaders and indigenous leaders, in addition to definitions of these interventions aimed at suicide prevention. “Indigenous people need to be heard, because Public Policies are made for this”, said the doctoral student in anthropology.