Brazil’s silent epidemic

A silent suicide epidemic is sweeping Brazil. The number of suicides here has spiked 73 percent since 2000, claiming 11,000 lives a year, and is now the fourth-leading cause of death among young people.

In Brazilian society, positivity and optimism are valued, while suicide and depression are taboo topics, experts say. Teenagers confronting mental illness and the relatives of those who have committed suicide often feel isolated and invisible.

Bereaved parents of suicide victims are now turning to each other and forming support groups to learn how to carry on when all that remains of their children are the objects and photos they left behind.

Maria Cristina da Silva lost her daughter, Mariana, at 23.

Mariana was a photographer, who also loved Japanese Cosplay, a type of performance art where participants dress up as their favorite characters from video games. She would spend hours scouring aisles of fabric stores to make elaborate costumes. Her mother stores them in a closet. She smoothed over the fabrics again and again as she talked about her daughter.

“She fell in love with Japanese culture at 9 years old. She would tell me, ‘I was born in the wrong country.’ She dreamed of going to Japan and learned 11 different Japanese dialects.”

Ivo Oliveira Farias lost his daughter, Ariele, at 18.

Ariele was a reader, who devoured books in just a few hours. After she died, her father, Ivo, kept the towel she used, with her name embroidered on the front, neatly folded in her room.

“She was born in my hands. Her mother went into labor three weeks early in our living room. She opened her eyes and stared right into mine. I was the first and last person she saw in the world.”

Experts attribute the drastic rise in suicides in part to Brazil’s prolonged political crisis and a haunting recession that dried up opportunities. In 2017, unemployment in Brazil reached a 20-year high, while a massive corruption investigation resulted in the jailing of many members of the country's political elite, leaving Brazilians disillusioned with their leaders.These events occurred as young people were suffering from global problems like the isolating effects of social media and cyberbullying.

Terezinha and Joseval Maximo lost their daughter, Marina, at 19.

After their daughter's death, Terezinha and Joseval felt they had nobody to talk to, so they started a blog to support bereaved parents and break taboos about suicide in an effort to keep her memory alive. They clung to each other and got matching tattoos of Marina's name in her handwriting.

“Her nickname was Pineapple. She loved being surrounded by people. Her friends were like family. She tried to help everyone. But when she needed help, there was nobody to help her.”

Ana Luiza Setubal lost her son, Felipe, at 21.

Felipe loved extreme sports and would spend his afternoons skateboarding in a park. He dreamed of skydiving one day. Within six months of his suicide, three other students at his university and four friends from his hometown also took their own lives.

“He went to the best schools, he had a bright future. He had everything in life, but at the same time, he had nothing. It's an epidemic. This generation is isolating itself more and more.”

Tadeu Dote Sá lost his daughter, Beatriz, at 13.

Beatriz was a cheerful teenager, who loved to dress up, go to the mall and take selfies. After her death, her father noticed his friends didn't know how to talk about what happened and grew distant. He says he receives letters from his deceased daughter through a spirit medium. He has collected these messages and bound them into a book which he reads, again and again, highlighting his favorite parts.

“She gave the best hugs. She threw her arms around people and lifted them up.”

Compared to the United States, Brazil’s public health system has generally neglected mental health issues, according to suicide experts. Suicide hotlines and prevention campaigns are usually privately run and underfunded. Teens and their families often face their crises with little support.