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Reaching Out

According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report an individual commits suicide in the world every 40 seconds which accounts for about 800,000 deaths each year.  As such countries are being advised that suicide should be seen as a public health problem and an increased focus on prevention and awareness of mental health issues should be adopted.

Although Portugal’s suicide rate is slightly below the European average, in 2017 some 1,061 suicides were recorded. In Madeira, during the same period there were 21 suicides (sixteen men and five women), which is in line with the annual average for the Region between 2010 and 2017.  However, Madeira’s suicide rate fell below the national average in 2017, with approximately 8.2 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.  Causes include bereavement, loneliness, discrimination, relationship breakups, financial problems, violence and abuse.

Madeira’s reduced mortality through suicide may also be due, in part, to SESARAM who have applied ‘psychological first aid’ to more than 2,500 individuals since 2010. 

Portugal’s overall suicide rates may be low, but there are four times more men committing suicide than women and older people, especially the over seventy-fives, are more at risk than younger people. Recent statistics show that in Madeira there are over 1,000 people aged 85 and over living alone, most of them women, and in 2017 there were 118 older adults per 100 young people, clearly indicating potential future problems for the island through an increasingly ageing population combined with a dwindling birth rate.

There are three major myths related to suicide.  Firstly, many believe that those who talk about death do not commit suicide.  However, the President of the Society of Suicidology, Fasto Amaro, thinks this is false, and the onus is on others to be aware of those who may be perceived as vulnerable.  

Another myth is that anyone who has attempted suicide does not try a second time. Again, Amaro states this is untrue as approximately 50% of people who fail to commit suicide the first time will succeed at the second attempt.

The third myth is that suicide is a matter of mental illness. This again is false as there are just as many suicides by individuals who are not suffering from recognised mental illness as there are suffering from some form of mental illness.

 Another damning report also suggests that the elderly in Portugal are more at risk from abuse/mistreatment than some other countries.  A WHO (World Health Organisation) study of fifty-three countries found that 39% of Portugal’s ageing population are victims of domestic violence, with an overwhelming majority of sufferers being women. 

Notwithstanding increased social media individuals can still feel incredibly lonely and pressures from social platforms, especially in the forms of self-image or destructive online games such as ‘Blue Whale’ and ‘Memo’ which advocate self-harm and suicide are all playing havoc with today’s society.  But we DON’T need to feel or be alone. In Madeira, increased psychological support is available to those who are experiencing feelings of isolation and loneliness. As an example, Dr. Sofia Ferreira, an English-speaking Consultant Clinical Psychologist based in Funchal helps those that need to manage and alleviate their distress.

Dr. Ferreira previously lived in South Africa and then went on to work in England and in Jersey. She believes that living on a small island can create its own set of problems which many people living here fail to realise.  These include being away from home in a strange environment, language barriers, the death of a loved one and the feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially for those living in more rural communities.  This is where Dr. Ferreira’s help can be invaluable, as not only can she help individuals look at their lives and suggest ways that can improve and create a more fulfilling life, she is also there for those who desperately need someone to talk to.  She stressed that ‘This is very important as many people find it easier to talk to a professional than a family member or a friend, particularly because there are no hidden agendas or the risk of being judged.” 

Talking to a professional like Dr. Ferreira means that the individual can be frank about their situation or themselves, without feeling vulnerable or in some cases, inadequate.  Furthermore, talking to a professional that is fluent in English means that native English speakers and other nationalities do not have to worry about translation gaps or lack of understanding. Also, there is something liberating when talking to someone in strict confidence, and on small islands such as Madeira, this is crucial, as fear of gossip can make an individual feel even more alone, vulnerable, isolated which in turn can lead to anxiety, depression and feelings of self-harm.

It is important to remember that there is no shame in seeing a psychologist, such as Dr. Ferreira, to talk about issues/difficulties/problems. A therapy session is a safe and confidential space where an individual has time to download their problems and discuss them in a safe, non-judgemental environment. 

Living abroad can be so fulfilling, but it can also be lonely. And with loneliness, isolation and anxiety on the increase, now is the time to talk.

“Think Differently, Feel Better,” with the help of Dr Sofia Ferreira, an experienced Clinical Psychologist.


Address:  Figueira Preta Consulting Rooms

                Rua da Figueira Preta, 17

                3rd Floor



Samantha Gannon

info at

Photo: Giovanni Ribeiro – Upsplash

Madeira Weekly