On September 5, 2022, tragedy struck the home of Maicol Andrés Bonilla Arias. The family reported that the 17-year-old had left his home after a heated argument with his parents, initiating a desperate search.
Two days later, a merchant found himself in the heart-wrenching situation of attempting to save a determined young individual from jumping off the Ibagué - Cajamarca bridge. Despite his efforts, time slipped away before he could intervene, and the tragedy unfolded as the young person leaped into the void.
The dreaded call arrived on the cold morning after, when firefighters managed to retrieve the lifeless body of Maicol Bonilla, adding to the distressing statistics of youth suicides in Ibagué.
Regrettably, the musical capital of Colombia holds the grim title of having the highest number of suicide attempts in the country: 3,615 in just the last three years. According to the Ibagué suicide report, in 2021, 48% of suicide attempts were made by young people.
Compelled to address this issue, the Rotary Clubs of Ibagué initiated a project in 2023 empowering rural girls. Through this, we recognized the pressing need for psychological first aid. Hence, the "Tents of Happiness" project was conceived, aiming to provide psychological support to schools in the city and dispel three prevailing myths: that psychologists are for the weak, that mental health care is important but not necessary, and that the costs of psychological care are prohibitive.
We chose to conduct an initial pilot in Ibagué schools, offering tools to fortify the emotional resilience of 300 children, youth, and adolescents. This involved engaging them through talks, workshops, and cultural activities within the "Tents of Happiness." The project serves as an emotional refuge, dismantling stigmas by bringing young people closer to psychological therapy. We challenge traditional paradigms to foster an environment of listening and support, confronting the escalating rates of suicide, substance abuse, student depression, cyberbullying, and teenage pregnancies in Ibagué.
The urgency is underscored by staggering figures: according to the analysis conducted by the Rotary Club of Ibagué, with the support of the Colombian Psychologists' Association, Tolima section, as of June 2023, the number of individuals who took their lives by jumping off the Ibagué - Cajamarca bridge reached 59. Throughout history, 800 people have attempted suicide from this location.
Furthermore, as of October 2022, there were 527 cases of suicide attempts in the city of Ibagué, with 304 occurring in the 5 to 24 age group, constituting 57.6%. The primary causes include family, economic, sentimental, and academic issues. The alarming 21% increase compared to 2021 raises concerns.
Based on these statistics, the Rotary Club of Ibagué recognized the urgency to implement an action plan to address this crisis affecting mental health, particularly among the youth, prompting a unified response from other clubs in the city.
The project aims to benefit approximately 25,000 individuals (youth and their families) through direct and indirect engagement in talks and activities. An estimated 8,000 young people could receive direct psychological support through the "Tents of Happiness" during the school year.