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Blog by Tiago Zortea of his experience of the 18th Conference of the Portuguese Society of Suicidology

posted May 1, 2019, 8:16 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated May 2, 2019, 3:10 AM ]
Expanding suicide prevention: Inside the 18th Conference of the Portuguese Society of Suicidology 

Tiago Zortea 

Portugal is a beautiful country. Full of history, culture, architecture, music and it has some of the warmest people in Europe. Sadly though, a large number of people in Portugal are affected by suicide. Committed to promoting suicide prevention nationally, the Portuguese Society of Suicidology (PSS) has been working intensely for more than twenty years, to bring together people from different fields with a range of diverse perspectives on suicide and its prevention. Among its many activities, the PSS holds an annual conference, which this year (2019) took place in the beautiful city of Beja (region of Alentejo), on the 12th and 13th of April. I was kindly invited by the PSS to give a talk on attachment as a vulnerability factor for suicide risk, the main topic of my PhD*. Attending the event was also an excellent opportunity to learn about the work Portuguese scientists, clinicians, and activists have been undertaking in the country. 

Figure 1 – Photos of the city of Beja, the conference opening session, and a picture featuring Dr Ana Matos Pires, host of the event. 

The conference was comprised of several parallel sessions. However, the opening symposium entitled “Places and Sites: Geography, Architecture, and Multidisciplinary Work in Suicide Prevention” demonstrated the PSS’s commitment to understanding suicide risk and prevention from a broader perspective, moving beyond the well established psychopathological approach. In this symposium, geographers from the University of Coimbra presented a study showing that suicide rates are overrepresented in rural, less populated and more deprived areas of the country, mainly among men [1] (Fig. 2). Their findings have important implications for public health policies and the promotion of suicide prevention. Other topics such as the identification of areas of concern and means restriction, and the architects’ views on safety in public areas/buildings were also presented in this symposium. 

Figure 2 – Santana et al. (2015) [1]

Another impressive symposium included the work of the Observatory of Suicidal Behaviour (OSB) led by Dr Ana Matos Pires, Director of the Psychiatry Department of the Health Unit Service of Baixo Alentejo (who was also responsible for hosting the conference in Beja). Dr Pires chaired the symposium in which her psychiatry trainees and colleagues presented some of their recent work. The region of Alentejo has the highest suicide rates in Portugal (Figure 3), and the OSB team are trying to meet the challenge of tackling the high rates of suicide there. If it were a country, Alentejo would have one of the highest suicide rates in the world (43,6 deaths per 100,000 people). Alongside Dr Pires and without any public resources and investment, the mental health professionals Paulo Barbosa, Rodrigo Mota Freitas, Daniela Lascasas, and Joana Neto have been promoting and implementing suicide prevention campaigns, in a concerted effort to reduce suicide rates in the region.

Figure 3 – Mortality rates by intentional self-harm according to gender and region of residency, 2015 (Portugal, 2017) [2]. Numbers are equivalent of deaths per 100,000 people. Source: Portuguese National Institute of Statistics.

In the opening session of the conference, Dr Pires also presented a series of observations on the Portuguese National Suicide Prevention Plan proposed in 2017. She acknowledged that the suicide prevention plan itself is a good one, but the challenge lies in its implementation. Several barriers for the strategy implementation were discussed. Dr Pires’ considerations resonate with a recently published editorial on the implementation of national suicide prevention strategies by Platt and colleagues [3]. In the editorial, the authors mention that unsupportive political, social, or legal environment, and limited capacity to monitor implementation progress constitute challenging barriers for the successful implementation of any national suicide prevention strategy.

Another important highlight of the conference was a session of talks sharing experiences of public suicide prevention campaigns in Spain and Brazil presented by the president of the Spanish Society of Suicidology (Andoni Anseán), and the president of the Latin American Association of Psychiatry (Antônio Geraldo da Silva), respectively. Both speakers shared the current activities in their countries; their successes and challenges, as well as plans for suicide prevention at the national level.

I was saddened to learn about the extent of suicide in Portugal, the huge challenges to be overcome in the region of Alentejo, but I was inspired by the tireless efforts of Portuguese colleagues to save lives despite the lack of financial and political support. The broad view that suicide is a multifaceted phenomenon which needs to be considered from a multidisciplinary perspective was one of the key messages of the event. The Portuguese Society of Suicidology has been doing a brilliant job in Portugal, bringing people together to understand, intervene, and prevent the deaths of thousands of Portuguese people.


* I would like to thank Dr Inês Rothes (University of Porto; Portuguese Society of Suicidology) of the kind invitation to speak at their annual conference.


[1] Santana, P., Costa, C., Cardoso, G., Loureiro, A., & Ferrão, J. (2015). Suicide in Portugal: Spatial determinants in a context of economic crisis. Health & place, 35, 85-94.

[2] Portugal. (2017). National Programme for Mental Health 2017. Lisbon: Ministry of Health. Retrieved from

[3] Platt, S., Arensman, E., & Rezaeian, M. (2019). National Suicide Prevention Strategies – Progress and Challenges. Crisis, 40(2), 75–82.