The firefighter who prevented 57 suicides and created a technique to prevent people from taking their own lives

In 2005, Commander Diógenes Munhoz, who is part of the São Paulo Fire Department, dealt with a relatively common event for his team.

A person had climbed a cell phone signal transmission tower with the intention to commit suicide.

It could have been the end of a life, but it wasn’t.

The episode ended by giving Munhoz an idea that would save many more lives since then.

“I realized that even if the person gave up, the result was not necessarily positive,” he says.

“We, and I mean not only my team, but also the police officers and professionals who also handle these cases, we were not instructeds to care about that person deeply. These departures are treated simply as one more call.”

The manual’s procedure, he says, is that “you distract the person and grab them, and that’s how the incident ends for us. We don’t care about what happens nextMunhoz says.

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Commander Diógenes Munhoz, from the fire department, works in the Brazilian city of São Paulo.

Other options used by emergency teams are to use powerful water hoses and tasers (which cause discharges), with which it is intended to keep the person who tries to commit suicide away from danger.

But in the commander’s opinion, these methods only aggravated the situation without providing any support to the person.

On that transmission tower, the fireman passed six hours with the person at risk.

For the first thirty minutes it was just the two of them.

“I met that man. I entered his world and his story, and I began to understand that I had a life full of suffering, of anguish and also of victories. After an hour up there, the last thing he wanted was for Alcides (not his real name) to die.”

Munhoz contacted the CVV (Centro de Valoración de la Vida), a public tool in Brazil that provides emotional support and suicide prevention.

Man hugging another

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Munhoz understood that a humanist vision had to be given to the subject.

There he received his first lessons on compassionate listeningand began to read and write on the subject, and to participate in symposiums and conferences.

were necessary ten years of study until the commander created a technique to help people who try to kill themselves.

Based on research and experience, created as a master’s project a course that is now applied in public emergency services in 20 Brazilian states and it is open to professionals from other areas, such as doctors, psychologists and other professionals who deal with the subject directly or indirectly.

Munhoz directly prevented the suicide of 57 peopleand estimates that this number has been significantly higher since there are other professionals using the same technique.

“I have seen the face of death 57 times and I guarantee you it is not beautiful. It is sad, gray, opaque and we have to be there to receive and embrace that person. Help this person understand that there are protective factors that can help them get on with their lives, and that they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel simply because they haven’t made it halfway through the tunnel.”

“Although I developed the course, it was only possible because I had the help of many professionals.”

Demonstration in Madrid

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In Spain there is a telephone number to prevent suicides.

In the second half of this year, the technique will be exported outside of Brazil. A team from the Portuguese Fire Department will receive the training.

What does the course offer

There are 40 hours of class in a week that cover seven topics, including phases of the deterrence approach, differences between types of attempts, suicide prevention and with a broader focus there is a module on mental health.

“Those who go through the training learn, among other things, to distinguish the types of people who try it, which are classified as aggressive, psychotic or depressive,” explains the commander.

“There are seven tools of body language and signals that can be used by the person who has to approach them. The key to the technique is not to speak to a depressed person in the same way, with the same gestures, that I would if I approached a psychotic person”, Munhoz points out.

Another change that happened after the course was created is the type of medical care the suicide receives.

Before, the person was taken to the nearest emergency room. Most of the time she was not seen by a psychiatrist, but by a general practitioner.

Munhoz giving a course in an auditorium.

Commander Munhoz began lecturing on the subject to large audiences.

Today, referral to the CAPS (Psychosocial Care Centers) is planned and the possibility of hospitalization is opened.

“When a person is only medicated and dischargedthere’s a good chance he’ll try to kill himself again.”

The commander is a doctoral student in mental health at the Center for Advanced Security Studies of the Military Police of the State of São Paulo, and his research is currently focused on the results that the technique has already achieved in this Brazilian state.

If we save a life, an entire career would already be paid for. Ask that person’s mother,” he says.

On two occasions, Munhoz was contacted for people he saved.

“One of them was a boy who was a scientist. He wrote to me on social networks. And at a conference, when I finished my speech, a guy got up, made a speech and ended up saying that he was only there because I had taken him away from the place where he was trying to kill himself. it was quite exciting“.

man thinking

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The feeling of isolation is one of the risk factors for suicide.

Depression is the leading cause of attempted suicide

According to the ABP (Brazilian Association of Psychiatry), about 97% of suicides are related to mental disorders, especially depression.

the disease is a public health problem in many countries.

In cases of treatment-resistant depression —when two previous treatments administered in adequate doses and time fail— it is estimated that the risk of death by suicide is multiplied by seven.

According to a recent study published in The Lancet, up to 80% of people affected by the disease in the world do not even have a diagnosis.

Delay in treating depression can have devastating consequences, such as the chronicity of the disease, the worsening of symptoms, the decrease in the efficacy of pharmacological treatments, the loss of productive years, economic impact and severe decrease in life. productivity, and all a detriment to your family life. Depression must be taken seriously,” says Cintia de Azevedo Marques Périco, professor of psychiatry at the ABC School of Medicine and member of the Psychiatric Emergency Committee of the ABP (Brazilian Association of Psychiatry).

Many experts believe that there is still a lack of understanding about its seriousness and its impact on life the patient and everyone around him.

If you or someone close to you is depressed or in trouble, seek help. You can find here support resources according to your region:


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