By Diego Villagraz, thanatologist and social worker.
María de Quesada, journalist and head of the project “The yellow girl. Suicide narratives from love”.
REHUNO: How did this project start?
María de Quesada: The project emerges from my own personal experience, I tried to commit suicide at the age of 15. It was an event that was kept within my family and something that I did not share with anyone else throughout many years.
I thought I had forgotten it but it was obviously an event that I was unable to shake off. In 2017, I travelled to the US for a Yoga training and one of my partners shared his suicide attempt story as a teenager.
It was at that precise moment when I felt that something had awoken within me, I saw myself mirrored in his experience and I wanted to speak up as well. However, when I tried to tell it I couldn’t, I wasn’t able to share it with a group of people, it felt unnatural to me.
So it wasn’t something immediate, it took me ages to do it, it was a gradual process. After a few months I finally got it out off my chest and I told it to my partner. In spite of the fact that we had been together for 15 years and had two children in common, I had never told him anything. I started confessing it to my friends from twenty years ago who were also completely unaware of it. And by sharing it little by little, I began to realise many things within myself…
REHUNO: Being a journalist, have you ever talked or reflected about this particular topic before through the media?
María de Quesada: As a reporter, suicide was never a theme that I had dealt with or drawn attention to naturally. During my university degree we had always been warned about it being banned from the media due to the contagion effect.
I had this idea of sharing my story but at the same time I wanted to share everyone else’s too. At the end of the day mine is just one of many other suicidal behaviours which are hidden and stigmatised. What’s more, people feel extremely guilty and ashamed of this.
I had the opportunity of speaking up about this and I took advantage of it. There is a high suicide rate in Spain and I think that the first step is to talk about it openly since hiding it is useless. I created “The yellow girl” while being in quarantine during the pandemic in June of 2020. Many people started reaching me with their stories about similar situations such as suicide attempts, self-harming, suicidal thought. I always intended to share them from a love perspective because we have suffered a lot and we have got over it. Thus, we are able to encourage and motivate other people who may be going through the same situation to realise that recovery is possible. And that is how everything started.
REHUNO: The project issues from the book The Yellow Girl. The book came first and later on the association was created.
María de Quesada: The project starts with a book called The Yellow Girl, the title originates from a dream that I had but it isn’t related to anything really, it was just a dream about the cover of a book and the yellow girl. The book is going to be released in September of 2021 which is the month of the suicide prevention recognition and the world day on the 10th of the same month. The book comprises stories which, like mine, have undergone excruciating pain but have been positively flipped over and turned into overcoming narratives. I think that when you are in the dark your personal self gets really affected. At the end of the day, we all have that bright and that dark side and when you are going through a period of darkness you learn to see life from many different perspectives and that is why we, the people who have been there, have a lot to share.
I would love to help, even if it is just one person, I want them to see their past, present and future situation from a different view, from a perspective based on hope, on overcoming. Overall, I would encourage them to ask for help, that is the most behind every story.
It is very difficult to actually leave from a place of so much suffering and darkness if we do share it and ask for help. If we get isolated and remain alone with our own thoughts, we may fall into a very deep hole from which it may be very hard to get out. The association issues from the book, I would have never imagined that this project would lead to the creation of an association, the book itself has naturally paved the way for me to form it. Benefits are certainly destined to contribute to suicide prevention in every sphere of society such as the educative, social and the mass media.
REHUNO: How is the mass media currently dealing with suicide?
María de Quesada: The WHO (World Health Organisation) has been encouraging the media to talk about suicide ever since twenty years ago. The first document in which it is recommended was written in the year 2000.
Considerable progress has been made in this matter since there is media which has openly established their own codes of practice while dealing with the topic of suicide like for example the Spanish news agency EFE. It is true that when you read the news you realise that there is still much left to do. But still, there are news which have already started including suicide hot lines and which are extremely respectful when it comes to families who have recently suffered suicide from a first-hand position.
I believe that this work needs to be started first in the journalism and communication university degrees. It is very difficult for journalists to take care of this theme if we haven’t been taught how to do it beforehand.
Our project has contacted already the universities in Valencia and it is also being done by other associations such as Papengo (Association of professionals of suicide prevention and post-prevention) http://papageno.es
REHUNO: What is the contagion and the papageno effect in the media?
María de Quesada: When I was studying in the journalism faculty, we were informed about the contagion effect, also known as Werther effect or copycat. What it means is that when we openly talk about suicide without taking into account the WHO recommendations, the contagion effect is produced. Reporting news in the wrong way contributes to the contagion effect. Furthermore, what we are trying to encourage is the papageno effect, which is completely the opposite. This one has to do with a clear and respectful way of reporting suicide information which may encourage individuals to ask for help.
Personally, the most meaningful aspect for me as a journalist is being able to prevent suicide and to avoid contributing to the contagion effect in any way.
Translated by Claudia Bordalo