Yellow September: prevention or commodification?

Cloister of Saint-Guilhem, late 12th to early 13th century, France.


The generalization of the campaign for the entire month of September has produced, in recent years, an effect contrary to that intended: commodification and misinformation about suicidal behavior.

Yellow September shouldn't exist. Originally conceived as a single day aimed at raising worldwide awareness of suicide prevention (September 10), the campaign became generalized for the entire month, gaining different outlines from its initial proposal.

Suicide prevention is a topic that needs clarification, especially when we are faced with epidemiological data: almost 80% of all suicide deaths in the world occur in the so-called developing countries; even in high-income countries, suicides are concentrated in vulnerable and peripheral populations; in Brazil, the segments that kill the most are those that suffer the most violence, namely, the indigenous, black, LGBTQIA+ and elderly population. In this way, the relationship between suicide and structural violence is very explicitly revealed, as well as the complexity of the phenomenon to think about universal, selective and indicated prevention policies.

However, the generalization of the campaign for the entire month of September has produced, in recent years, an effect contrary to that intended: commodification and misinformation about suicidal behavior. It has already become a “market trend” in this period for qualified and unskilled professionals, bloggers, celebrities and politicians to take advantage of the social issue of suicide as a platform for self-promotion.

Certainly one of the most absurd examples occurred last year, when two white, blonde, middle-class children, with light eyes and aged up to 5 years, starred in a video filmed by their parents in which they spoke in a sweet way about suicide prevention. . The children's aesthetics, as well as their “cute” behavior, made the video go viral. However, in addition to presenting erroneous and stigmatizing data about the phenomenon, this video contributed to the trivialization (or rather, the “attenuation”) of an extremely delicate topic, which needs to be seriously debated. Not to mention, of course, how much this video served for the mere self-promotion of the two children on social networks, under the opportunism of their parents.

One of the erroneous data repeatedly disseminated in Yellow September – both by some “experts” and by opportunists – is that 90% of suicide cases are associated with mental disorders. This data, which has already been refuted due to its methodological fragility, has its origin in retrospective analysis of deaths by suicide in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Such research is based on a strong medicalized view of the human phenomenon, which ends up reducing suicide to a pathology.

Indeed, the irresponsible reproduction of this data obeys a marketing rationale. This month we see an exponential growth in mental health professionals or even business administration, who sell magical solutions for suicidal behavior, whether behavioral, motivational or medication. Some even go so far as to promise to “zero” suicides in Brazil, something never seen in all of human history.

In this way, a socially determined phenomenon such as suicide becomes the object of individualizing and pathologizing discourses, reduced to an abnormality to be corrected. That is, as in the Middle Ages, the individual who exhibits suicidal behavior becomes the target of atonement and blame for his diabolical despair.

Even professionals with adequate training in the subject tend to fall into this type of rationality. The neoliberal tendency to convert everything, including mental health, into an object of self-management, makes many qualified professionals hostages of this marketing logic. Even without the intention, many collaborate for the spectacularization and commodification of suicide by restricting their field of reflection to moral solutions, speeches of union and empathy, precisely because they are the most conducive to consumption in social networks and acceptance by common sense. This formula even seduces public managers, who buy the idea and thus exempt themselves from the responsibility of implementing public policies to reduce inequalities. Incidentally, it is important to remember that the reduction of inequalities has an impact on the reduction of suicides. For example, Brazilian municipalities that have a Psychosocial Care Center (CAPS) and well-structured income transfer programs have lower numbers of suicides.

Thus, in its current format, Yellow September proves to be ineffective in dealing with the main root of suicidal behavior: structural violence. Instead of the awareness month on suicide prevention pointing to the need to reduce inequalities, the implementation of public policies, the guarantee of rights and the search for a fair society, what is currently seen is the reduction of mental health to its most abstract dimension, namely, that of the individual converted into a “company-of-the-self”. In this sense, “awareness” about mental health becomes extremely limited and ideological, as it results from the alliance between the pathologizing discourse of medicine and the motivational-moralist discourse of the occasion, which are responsible for reducing all strategies to the individual sphere. On the one hand, there would be the individual who presents suicidal behavior, who would need to understand himself as sick and accept that there is hope for his life, that is, that his rational judgment would be wrong and that his ability to evaluate his own existence would be unbalanced, regardless of the social, racial, and gendered place in which they find themselves. On the other hand, there would be the individual responsible for “detecting the signs” manifested by those thinking about killing themselves and, if possible, offering empathetic listening and help. The solution would be the correct investment between these two individual, isolated companies. Outside of this relationship, each individual-company defends the values ​​that it understands well, disconnected from any collective commitment. Hence the contradiction present in many cases of people who say they are in favor of preventing suicide and who, at the same time, are in favor of the death penalty. They become advocates of “valuing life” according to the occasion, according to the business, according to convenience.

Obviously, solidarity and awareness of the suffering of others is extremely important. This would be the foundation of any healthy relationship and is undoubtedly a premise for suicide prevention. However, we currently stop at this premise. Nothing is discussed about the social determination of health, that is, about how much our economic, political and social system produces material and relational vulnerability that results in suffering, which can turn into suicidal behavior. Perhaps this is the first step towards an awareness campaign that really gets to the root of the issue. Perhaps this is the true premise.

[ps: It is always necessary to remember the importance of the work of the Centro de Valorização da Vida (CVV) in welcoming people in a suicidal crisis. It is a free service, available 24 hours a day, which can be accessed by calling 188 from any region of the country].

* Thiago Bloss de Araújo is a doctoral student at the School of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at UNIFESP.


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