752 suicides in 19 months

14 September 2020 | Health

JANA-MARI SMITH

WINDHOEK



A shocking 752 Namibians committed suicide between January 2019 and 31 July 2020, as fears abound that suicides could spike in the months to come, amid the multiple social and economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

New statistics shared by the police reveal that in 2019, a total of 486 suicides were recorded in the country.

Over the first seven months of 2020 - between January and 31 July - the police recorded 266 suicides.

Men remain most at risk, with 409 committing suicide in 2019, followed by 58 women.

Eight boys and 11 girls under the age of 18 died by suicide in 2019. Men accounted for 222 of the suicides between January and July this year, followed by 31 women, as well as six boys and seven girls under the age of 18.



High numbers

The Khomas Region reported the highest suicides by July this year, totalling 48. In Omusati, 42 lives were felled by suicide, and 29 in Otjozondjupa.

Last year, the highest number of suicides, 66, was reported in Omusati, followed by 62 in Ohangwena and 51 in Khomas. Research has revealed that Namibian men of an economically productive active age are most vulnerable to suicide.

The health ministry confirmed last week that available figures for January to June indicate that at least 435 people attempted suicide.





A ministry study published two years ago reported that in 2015, an estimated 25 000 people were known to have attempted suicide that year alone in Namibia.



Suicide crisis

During a World Suicide Prevention Day panel discussion last week in Windhoek, social worker Jennifer Lifasi echoed more than a decade of warnings that Namibia faces a suicide crisis.

“This pandemic of suicide is a worrisome issue,” she said.

Namibia's suicide rate remains one of the highest in Africa, and globally. The health ministry study found that based on available country statistics, Namibia is ranked fourth in Africa and 11th globally in terms of its suicide rate per capita.

Iani de Kock, a clinical psychologist at Bel Esprit Clinic in Windhoek, said Namibia's suicide rate is estimated to be double the global rate of 11 suicides per 100 000 population.

Speaking during the panel discussion on mental health and suicide prevention, she stressed this ranking is “quite significant, considering what a small country we are”.

De Kock warned that while studies have not yet been conclusive, experts caution that amid the multiple social and economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic, suicides could likely spike in the months and years to come.



Economic stress

In Namibia particularly, economic stress including unemployment is a key driver to suicidal behaviour.

“There is a clear link between economic depression and an upswing in suicides, depression and mental health concerns in general,” clinical psychologist Dr Shaun Whittaker warned last year. He said unemployment, financial stress and poverty can be devastating to mental health.



Hope

Meanwhile, a man who identified himself only as Jaco from Khomasdal called into the public discussion hosted last week with a message of encouragement and hope. He said he tried to hang himself, which resulted in him being hospitalised and in a coma for three days. Following his attempted suicide, he said the state offered counselling services and medicine, and he has mostly recovered from his ordeal, and is feeling better and more hopeful. “At end of the day, we need to understand it is a sickness; it's not a thing you can ignore. You need to tell yourself I am sick, and you need to get help. Seek help. That is the first and most important thing.”

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