Integral ecology

Rafaela SantosDeath is the moment where nothing ends and everything begins".

On Monday 28th, the neuropsychiatrist Rafaela Santos will intervene in a Journey on 'Soul, death and beyond', at the University of Navarra. On this occasion, in an interview with Omnes, he reflects on the fear of death, the low tolerance to frustration in young people, about the brain, or the meaning of life.

Rafael Miner-March 25, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes
rafaela santos

"When I was thinking about the title I had the consultation with a young patient diagnosed with cancer," Dr. Santos says, "and he said, 'My game is over... 'Game over.' It hit me at first, but I immediately reacted by thinking that it's a term God uses... 'ludens in orbe terrarum'..., my delights are to play with the children of men. I told him that God plays with us if we allow him to. That he should not be afraid because for God to judge and play... is to take away a Z."

Rafaela Santos is a specialist in psychiatry, executive president of the Humanae Foundation and author of books on resilience, such as 'My Roots'. On Monday 28th she will be speaking at the XIII Theological-Didactic Day of the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences (ISCR) of the aforementioned university, and we asked him for a preview of some of his ideas.

The suggestion was heeded, and here are some reflections, which do not leave indifferent. He assures that "the fear of death is something natural because we have been created by and for love and happiness, made for possession not for renunciation and death"; that "death is the moment where nothing ends and everything begins, it is the definitive appointment", and regarding young people, "it worries us that their low tolerance to frustration causes that only last year, 300 young people between 15 and 30 years old committed suicide". Let's go with it.

At the conference you will speak on 'Death: game over? Death, the end of the game, the end of the game? Can you advance some of your arguments?

 - Honestly, it is the most difficult lecture I have ever been asked to give. Since I was asked to give it, this subject has come to my mind with some frequency and I confess that it has helped me very positively to keep it in mind.

Regarding the title, from the first moment I was clear that I was not going to give it a medical approach, much less a dramatic sense. Death is a reality that we face, sooner or later, and trying to hide it would be foolish.

When I was thinking about the title I had a consultation with a young patient diagnosed with cancer and he said: "my game is over... Game over".. It hit me at first, but I immediately reacted by thinking that it is a term that

God uses..."ludens in orbe terrarum"... my delights are to play with the children of men. I told him that God plays with us if we allow him to. That he should not be afraid because for God, to judge and play... is to take away a Z.

The reality is that we are born to live and we live to die, although in the case of young people it is much more difficult to understand. We could say that death is the moment where nothing ends and everything begins. For me it is the definitive date

With the pandemic, wars like the one in Ukraine, etc., the physical or moral suffering and death of so many people come closer.

- Death is something that always happens to others. Having no personal experience, we can see it only as spectators, and in that sense some react with panic and others with recklessness. Neither of these two extremes can be called courage. It is necessary to reflect on their meaning in order to put ourselves in our place. There are people who die when their time comes and others who die the day before because they always live in fear of dying.

In its right measure, the fear of death is something natural because we have been created by and for love and happiness, made for possession, not for renunciation and death. Our brain is programmed for survival and happiness, but, although we have automatic programs, we are free to choose altruism over selfishness in every moment. We can be happy by risking our life to save another, and for that reason, suffering has a meaning and makes us better.

I would ask you, in this sense, how to face events with serenity, and also with a strength that sometimes we lack. You are a specialist in resilience, perhaps one of the greatest in Spain. Adversities can sometimes get the better of us.

- Adversities can defeat us if we let them defeat us. As I have mentioned on other occasions, we shape our brain with the messages we give it: if we think that we will not be able to overcome an adversity, we will certainly not be able to, but if we perceive that event as a challenge, and we convince ourselves that we will be able to, even if we do not know how to do it, our brain starts to work in our favor looking for a way out of that situation, turning the difficulty into an opportunity for improvement.

This attitude to overcome any difficulty is called resilience and can be trained and developed knowing that what we are today is a consequence of our yesterday and therefore the current victories have their roots in the previous effort.

A few days ago, the young writer Ana Iris Simón referred to the high suicide rates among young people. They have increased by no less than 250 % during the pandemic (in young people), and psychologists (and psychiatrists) can't cope. Suicide seems to be the main public health problem in Europe. Is this the case? What do you think of these data?

- During the pandemic, problems of anxiety, depression, insomnia, fear of contagion, etc. have skyrocketed. According to WHO data, the so-called "pandemic fatigue" has affected 60 % of the population and the consumption of psychotropic drugs has tripled. This is alarming in mental health, as depression is the leading cause of disability in the world.

Regarding suicide in Spain, 200 people attempt suicide every day and 11 of them succeed. It is necessary to know how to treat this subject with a lot of tact and to observe the differences in behavior between the one who threatens suicide and the one who plans it definitively. They wish to "go away in peace" leaving things closed. For this reason, many of them are more affectionate than usual and say goodbye in an underhanded way. 

With respect to young people, we are concerned that their low tolerance for frustration is causing the increase you report, as last year alone, 300 young people between the ages of 15 and 30 committed suicide. The loss of motivation and meaning creates a flat, uniform, unrelieved world, which causes sadness.

One last question. From your professional experience, does the meaning of life help to maintain emotional, psychological or psychic stability, as you prefer to call it, and ultimately, to be happy? I am referring to convictions, solidarity with others, family, religion?

- Having a sense of why to live, discovering what is important and loving it is the secret to give meaning to life and is the best therapeutic effect. As Viktor Frankl said, those who have a reason to live always find a way to keep their hope safe, their psychological strength, and that is the key to stability and happiness, to find that reason, to have a sense of life is what centers us and allows us to move forward despite the sorrows, it is the compass that helps us in the storms and prevents us from losing our way.

Last year, doctors and psychologists' associations predicted that after the Covid-19 pandemic there would be consequences, after-effects, especially mental ones, in the form of fears, traumas... It seems that their predictions are coming true. In addition, there are the usual ones of our civilization, with or without pandemic. For example, addictions, trivialization of sex, mistreatment, widening loneliness, and so many others. We were left wanting more in the interview with Dr. Rafaela Santos, but the Conference on Monday 28th at the ISCR is just around the corner.

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