Spain's Minister of Health, Carolina Darias. / sergio pérez/efe

Spain's free suicide prevention number 024 launches

The telephone helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year and is manned by qualified professionals who are employed by the scheme, and not by volunteers

ANTONIO PANIAGUA Madrid

Every day, 11 people in Spain take their own life; in other words, that is one every two hours. In 2020, there were 3,941 cases of suicide, according to the National Institute of Statistics. It has been the principal cause of unnatural death ever since 2008, when the number of people who took their own life exceeded that of those who died in traffic accidents. Now, the government has taken an important step towards breaking down the taboos around suicidal behaviour with its 24-hour telephone hotline, which started operating today, Tuesday 10 May, and is run by Cruz Roja. It is completely confidential, accessible by everyone and is answered immediately.

This suicide prevention number is 024, and it is available every day of the year.

Announcing the measure in Madrid, Health minister Carolina Darias pointed out that apart from the 11 people a day who take their own life in Spain, about 220 others attempt to do so and the numbers are increasing. The government has organised a media campaign to raise awareness of the 024 helpline for the rest of this month and in June.

Emotional support for those at risk and their families

The phone number is manned by qualified professionals who are employed by the scheme, and not by volunteers. If the risk is considered high, they will alert the emergency services, explained Fátima Cabello of Cruz Roja, at the presentation of this new prevention service.

When someone rings 024 the response is immediate, and preventive guidance and emotional support is available for anyone who is considering suicide or family members of someone who is at risk.

The president of the Spanish Confederation of Mental Health, Nel González, said there needs to be more visibility regarding emotional problems. “We live in a system which tries to resolve physical problems immediately, but not psychological ones because they can’t be seen,” he said.

The 024 line is also accessible by people who communicate through sign language, and for those who do not speak Spanish, the helpline has a telephone interpreting service, so that users can speak to someone in their own language.

Until now, the only suicide prevention and mental health helplines in Spain have been those run by associations - such as Teléfono de la Esperanza (in Spanish) and Samaritans in Spain (in English) - but there was not a publicly-funded public attention service.

Fundación Anar, an organisation that runs telephone lines and a chat for children and adolescents with problems, revealed some chilling figures last week. In the last decade, calls for help for youngsters with suicidal ideas multiplied by 12, from 298 in 2012 to 3,665 in 2021.

Helplines

  • 024 The new Spanish government free 24-hour 365-day helpline run by the Red Cross. Real time telephone interpreting service for non-Spanish speakers.

  • Samaritans in Spain Free helpline in English for anyone feeling desperate, anxious or alone: 900525100 between 10am and 10pm or email pat@samaritansinspain.com. www.samaritansinspain.com

  • Anar Helpline and chat for children and teens (Spanish). 900202010 www.anar.org