Suicide profoundly affects family members and friends of those who die in this way, uniting them in indescribable and unimaginable pain. The loss of a brother, even though more than 30 years have passed, or of a close friend just last year, shook our world. It will never be what it was. We will never be free of the feelings of impotence, guilt, and confusion that affected us then, and today.

Time is not your ally with this kind of death. You ask yourself the same questions, never answerable, never losing their power: “What if..?” “Why…?” “What could I have done to prevent it?”

Throughout the world, 700,000 people die by suicide every year, and it is one of the main causes of death of young people between 15 and 29. We believe the record of three suicides every day in Portugal is far lower than the reality, as the data are only available through 2013.

Therapy has helped, and is helping us, to cross this stormy ocean of deep, intense pain that is so hard to understand. We are learning that to speak of this subject is one of the most important ways of stopping suicide, because when one begins to lift the veil of fear, shame, and stigma surrounding it, you discover that many people, in one way or another, have been affected by suicide.

No one is alone, it isn’t a shameful thing, it is not a stigma - it affects all of us. Probably everyone reading this has been touched by a suicide, whether of a family member, a friend, a neighbour close by or in your town or city. Rich or poor, those who seem to have it all, who laughed and, until yesterday, were “great!” And every suicide, we know from our own experience, reopens the wound that is always there, for us and for our family and friends. Statistically, every suicide affects 7 to 10 people among family and friends. The ripple effect is much broader if the death is more widely known.

Having lost someone through suicide, we are more aware and focused on this. Helplines are not available 24 hours a day in Portugal, despite the best efforts of many volunteers, and so we decided to do what we could to address this failing. We wrote and circulated a petition for the creation of a “Helpline for the Prevention of Suicide in Portugal.”

We launched the petition on August 30, 2023, and, within a few hours, had reached a thousand signatures. We wrote to the actor António Raminhos, who shared our petition. He wrote to Martim Mariano who shared it too, with his own personal, courageous, and even beautiful story. We reached 3,500 signatures. Thank you António and Martim!

But we knew we had to move more quickly. To be brought up in the National Assembly, a public petition needs 7,500 valid signatures and the process to bring it to debate is time-consuming. But for someone who needs help now, in their moment of desperation, the response needs to be immediate. Those of us, survivors - friends and family - needed to be sure there was a helpline available to try to save the most lives we could.

We decided to reach out to all the political parties and, on the 4th of September, the Livre Party met with us and embraced our effort, body and soul, because suicide is indifferent to home, family, or party. On September 7, Livre proposed a law for the “Prevention of Suicide and Auto-destructive Behaviour” in Parliament, seconded by a similar proposal from the Bloco de Esquerda. The proposal was approved unanimously on the first vote on October 13, along with an epidemiological study of suicide in Portugal, proposed by the Bloco de Esquerda. Thank you to all those who supported this!

But the government fell on November 7, and all discussion of proposed laws and regulations that had been scheduled at the specialist committee level stopped. We didn’t give up in the face of this situation. We started compiling information, reaching out to suicide prevention helplines from the United States to Australia. We met with the long-time director of the American suicide helpline on November 28, with the Dutch helpline managers on December 15, with Project ASIST - the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training program - on January 10 of this year, and with the Portuguese Order of Psychologists also in January. We wrote a report and sent it to the Ministry of Health. But mostly, we educated ourselves.

And we learned that almost all of these support efforts began with the initiative of civil society, that they function 24 hours a day with government support, independent of any political party. We learned the importance of sympathetic listening, of suspending any judgement, of the importance of speaking openly about suicide, and the risk of suicide. No matter how painful it might be, we learned the need to say the words “suicide” and “death” because only by doing so can the stigma be reduced.

On January 29, 2024, the President of the Republic signed the Law for the Prevention of Suicide and Auto-destructive Behaviour. We are now awaiting the regulations required by the law, and the implementation of the helpline - both telephonic and for messages - which will have its own dedicated number. The way is clear and, soon, we will have news.

We know this line is only one way to prevent suicide, a process that is long and extensive. We’re continuing to work with all concerned to implement the line as soon as possible. We want to leave everyone who is reading this with this message: we need to talk about suicide.

Talking about suicide reduces the stigma. Talking about it removes the taboo about suicide. Talking about suicide prevention will help and prevent the action. Talking about suicide saves lives. No one is alone.

For more information on suicide, see the WHO’s website, and in Portugal the Society for the Study of Suicide (SPSuicidologia) as well as the National Health Service (SNS). If you have a family member or friend who has talked about suicide, call the SNS 24 and follow their recommendations. If you have thoughts of suicide, reach out to your family or a friend, and call 808 24 24 24.

About the Authors

Christopher Sigur is an American living in Portugal since 2018. With a Masters Degree from Columbia University (New York) he has worked on economic and political development in Asia, and has lived in Japan and Afghanistan. His youngest brother killed himself more than 30 years ago.

Marisa Filipe has a degree in History, and is a doctoral student working on British espionage in Portugal during WWII. She works in the area of Culture and Tourism. The depression and death by suicide of a friend in 2023 led her to be one of the authors of the petition.

Inês Cerejo has a degree in the Science of Communication and Culture, and a Masters degree in Cultural Management and Program Development. She works in marketing and culture, and lost a friend to suicide in 2023.

Mental is a section of O Observador dedicated exclusively to topics related to mental health. It is a partnership with the Luso-American Foundation for Development (FLAD) and the Hospital da Luz, in collaboration with the College of Psychiatry of the Portuguese Order of Physicians and the Order of Psychologists. All the content in this section is non-partisan and editorially independent.

(Originally published in Portuguese 9 April, 2024 online at