On a typical lovely night in my apartment of Mexico City, I like to ponder the biggest questions in life.
With a fine glass of bourbon on the rocks in hand and the amazing view of the city in front of me on my balcony.
At 2 AM, such an environment is friendly towards the pondering and intellectual man.
The one who combs through thoughts many important subjects…
Is Huey Lewis & the News too new wave for my tastes?
Were the ghosts in The Shining real or part of Jack’s hallucinations?
And the question most important above all: why do Uruguayans like committing suicide?
One of those questions doesn’t look like the other…
But it is one that I have now begun pondering as I listen to music of the Gold Room of The Shining here.
In all seriousness, it’s something I accidentally came across this night when reading about Latin America.
Supposedly Uruguay has the highest rate of suicide in Latin America as you can see here.
Uruguay apparently ranks 16th in the world for suicide.
Higher than any Latin American country.
And higher than other countries that have made the news more often in the past about suicide cases like Japan that comes in at number 49 in that list.
Thankfully for Uruguay though, they haven’t passed Russia that stands at number 11.
Probably due to the lack of vodka consumption and nicer winters perhaps.
Plus, the Uruguayans don’t have to cry like little bitches about losing the Cold War.
Though, if Uruguay was higher than Russia, then I guess we’d have some cool “doomer Uruguayan” music.
A topic of which I briefly wrote about here (Latin doomer music).
At any rate, it’s still a surprise anyway that Uruguay is so high on the list.
Among gringos who know Latin America well enough, we tend to think of Uruguay as a nice place to visit.
Perhaps not so much to live because of how boring it sounds.
But a relatively safe place compared to the rest of Latin America with an economy and political scene that are relatively stable within the region.
Why could the Uruguayans be so depressed?
Well, I’m not an expert on the topic.
Not Uruguayan personally nor have I ever had a discussion with any of my 23 Uruguayan friends regarding their collective decision to purchase some rope at Home Depot together.
I have spent some time in Uruguay though as you can see here – seemed alright.
So, as you can tell, I’m not the biggest expert on the suicide rate in Uruguay.
But, given I don’t have much else to do right now, I figured I’ll look into it!
So we’ll learn together!
The Basic Numbers
To start, let’s look at what the basic numbers are regarding suicide in Uruguay from this source here.
“en términos de sexo, el suicidio es un problema que se da más en los hombres que en las mujeres (en Uruguay de 10 suicidios, 8 son hombres y 2 mujeres). En el 2020 el país registraba 2 suicidios por día y la mayor parte de estos los llevaban a cabo personas de la tercera edad (a partir de 65 años). Acotó que en esta franja etaria la tasa de suicidios es de alrededor de 30 cada 100.000 habitantes). En cambio en el caso de los jóvenes (19 años o menos) no llega a 5 cada 100.000 habitantes.”
What does it say?
Basically, suicide in Uruguay happens more in men than women with 8 out of 10 suicides being men.
Then, in 2020, about 2 suicides a day happened in Uruguay and most of the suicides were among those older than 65.
Where, for comparison sake, the suicide rate for those over 65 was 30 per 100,000 habitants where the suicide rate for young folks who are 19 are younger was 5 per 100,000 habitants.
According to this bit here, in the year from 2011 to 2012, about 1,103 people committed suicide in Uruguay and 363 of them were people over the age of 55.
And, from what I could tell, that’s a large part of the drive in suicide in Uruguay based on my brief look into this.
Over the last few decades, we have also seen a huge increase in suicides.
For example, according to this source here that we’ll work with more later in this article, there’s been a huge increase in suicide rates among the broader Uruguayan population.
Where, from 2007 to 2012, there were 3,293 suicides in Uruguay or a suicide rate of 16.8 suicide suicides per 100,000.
In 2012 anyhow, suicide rate has gotten high enough that it was “double the number of murders and greater than deaths from accidents, without taking into consideration that any of them could be a form of covert suicide.”
Outside of age, the same last source goes on to how 67% of suicides in 2012 were based in the provinces of Uruguay while 33% were based in the capital of Montevideo despite the capital having half of the Uruguayan population.
The provinces most impacted were Treinta y Tres (35.35%) and Flores (31.9%).
When it comes to other numbers, the same last source mentions how 49% of suicides are from those who are married and an extra 3% were in a stable union.
And, among the older generation in Uruguay, about 50% of those over 60 are married.
For those curious, the most common forms of suicide in Uruguay were in the following order: poisoning, jumping to death, firearms, drowning and other forms with women going for poisoning more and men going for hanging more.
Let’s jump into a study anyway that I found looking into the higher rate of suicide among the elderly in Uruguay.
The Lonely Elderly
Right away, it seems to me that part of the contribution to their high suicide rate is the elderly.
There’s a good study I found on the topic that you can see here.
The research is titled “Suicide attempts and suicide ideation among the elderly in Uruguay” by María Cristina Heuguerot Fachola & others.
We’ll be bringing up the main points of the article as to their reasoning for the higher suicide rates among the elderly in Uruguay.
First, we have this quote here.
“The author argues that neoliberalism is not just a set of economic practices, but also a new culture that imposes different values with a significant impact on social bonds, including the most intimate ties such as family relationships.”
Extending from that, the article goes into certain economic and social practices among Uruguayans that leave the elderly alone and without proper care as we can see here.
“… there is the growing indi- vidualism, permanent migration and relocation that often leaves the elderly unprotected due to the lack of access to family care and the absence of filial responsibility.”
Basically, you have younger folks forgetting their elderly to focus on their careers in other areas away from home while not enough support is offered to old folks.
Beyond that, you also have other issues like older folks feeling “unproductive” because they are no longer working while also wishing to be young again.
As a result, many older folks in Uruguay feel depressed from that.
“Furthermore, the intrusion of the market into social and family relation- ships, which gives paramount importance to the constant multiplication of economic resources, looks upon old age as an unproductive stage. In addition to this, the concern about aesthetics and the quest for permanent youth generates further shame in the elderly, upsetting their identity and causing isolation and insecurity. For this reason, an assumption of this work is that in addition to mental illnesses like depression2, classically as- sociated with consummated suicide or a suicide attempt (SA) …”
Beyond that, the study, before going into the methodology, briefly mentions the importance of social services available for the elderly at a time when they can’t work anyhow.
Next, let’s discuss another factor.
Lack of Opportunities?
Remember how we briefly mentioned that suicide is much higher in provinces than in Montevideo?
We have this interesting article here that looks into that subject in Spanish.
Though Spanish isn’t my native language, here’s some of what I understood that I found to be important in relation to this article you are reading now.
This long bit here in Spanish is what I found to more relevant and interesting to what will be discussed:
“Un elemento destacable que parece cumplir un papel central es el carácter rural de los territorios con mayor incidencia del suicidio; como se señaló, durante el periodo 2012-2017 hubo un promedio de 2.7 suicidios rurales por cada suicidio urbano. En este aspecto, hay coincidencia con los estudios que tienen un enfoque regional (Gonçanves y Oliveira, 2011) y, en general, con las investigaciones recientes sobre la problemática del suicidio en diferentes lugares del mundo (Arias y Blanco, 2010; Gallagher y Sheehy, 1994; McLaren y Hopes, 2002; Phillips, Xianyun y Yanping, 2010; Werlang, 2013) que alertan sobre el incremento en las tasas de suicidio en las zonas rurales.
Aquí es importante hacer dos salvedades. Primero, hay que indicar que no existe una ecuación directa de altas tasas de suicidio en todas las zonas rurales de Uruguay ni del mundo, se trata de ciertos territorios; se- gundo, para algunos casos no se trata de un fenómeno nuevo ni emergente, pues, como ya dicho, en el caso de Uruguay es una tendencia histórica asociada a procesos socioespaciales.
Estos argumentos ayudan a poner en cuestión una cierta esencialización, en algunas perspectivas analíticas, de plantear el factor rural como factor determinante del acto suicida, o, como en el caso de la propuesta de Gonçanves y Oliveira (2011), que plantea el “efecto contagio” por continuidad geográfica, incurriendo, también, en un determinismo espacial.
f) Otro elemento que sobresale, debatido a lo largo del texto, es el referente a las desigualdades territoriales relacionadas con factores como los niveles de ingresos, oportunidades laborales y educativas, inversión socioeconómica y, en general, condiciones de vida, que estarían indicando el grado de “desarrollo” de los contextos espaciales. Los datos constatan la hipótesis de Robertt (1999) sobre la mayor vulnerabilidad ante el suici- dio de las regiones históricamente menos desarrolladas.
Sin embargo, hay un aspecto cuestionable en la argumentación de este autor, cuando afirma que las regiones más atrasadas no están articuladas a las dinámicas de modernización globales, lo cual es equívoco, porque el proceso de aper- tura económica vivida en el país desde los años ochenta ha privilegiado el desarrollo de vías e infraestructura para facilitar la extracción de recursos (agroindustriales y forestales) hacia los mercados globales. El problema es, como dicen los propios pobladores: ¿a quién favorece ese desarrollo?,”
To do a very brief summary in English for what I find important here, the quote above mentions how there’s an average of 2.7 rural suicides for every urban suicide in Uruguay.
Next, from what I get, they state that there isn’t any direct relationship between high suicide rates in rural areas of Uruguay and rural areas of the rest of the world.
For Uruguay anyway, it’s been an historical trend that has been seen for a while now.
And, while I’ll admit that I don’t understand some of the theories that they reference (not a social scientist), they do discuss the effect of the lack of opportunities in rural areas.
Be it income levels, job opportunities, investment resources and more.
Though, as the article states, some investment has been made in rural areas for the benefit of the agricultural and forestry industries.
And, as I was about to point out, the article then ends that with a few relevant questions like “who does this development benefit?”
Just because you have investment into an area doesn’t mean that it benefits everyone that it needs to.
Some get rich and many left behind.
Anyway, for those who want the full study, the link to it is here.
There isn’t much more to say here on my end.
Based on my brief look into this topic, it seems a lot of the issue regarding high suicide rates in Uruguay revolve around the following:
- Elderly folks not having adequate financial and social support.
- Not enough discussion on mental health issues.
- Rural areas in provinces lacking opportunities relatively speaking.
- Cost of living being quite high for Uruguayans in general with not as many good jobs to pay for a decent living in most areas (not just rural).
- The family unit not being too strong relatively speaking.
At any rate, these all sound like typical problems you find in quite a few countries.
I’ll admit in saying that I still don’t know why Uruguay has such a high suicide rate compared to other countries of the world that also experience many of the problems above.
What makes Uruguay different?
Why does it have such a high suicide rate compared to other Latin countries for example or any other country that has many of the problems above?
I don’t know.
I’m only left with the impression that, for some reason, Uruguayans take to suicide a little more liberally than other nationalities in face of these same problems faced in quite a few countries on the planet.
None of the studies I looked at really differentiated Uruguay from the rest of the world to explain why the contrast in suicide rates in Uruguay from elsewhere.
So that’s all I can say on the matter with nothing else to bring up except this video here on the subject from Youtube.
Though it's an hour long, it's one of the better videos on Youtube that really nails the topic of suicide in Uruguay pretty damn well.
Worth a watch!
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Thanks for reading.