One suicide each day in Namibia

29 October 2018 | Social Issues

Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in Namibia, with available statistics showing the country ranks 11th globally and fourth in Africa in terms of the number of suicides committed every year.

On average, at least one Namibian commits suicide every day of the year. In April, 35 people committed suicide, in May 41, in June 27, and in July 28, totalling 131 suicides over four months, according to police statistics. In 2017, 425 people committed suicide.

Experts warn that the rankings should be viewed with caution, as they are based on available data and many countries fail to submit accurate data or any data at all.

Nevertheless, Namibia has consistently been battling high rates of suicide over the years.

Between 2012 and 2016, 2 190 people killed themselves. An estimated 25 000 people attempted suicide in 2015 alone, while 437 succeeded.

At the launch of a national study on suicide last week, health ministry permanent secretary Ben Nangombe said Namibia's suicide rate was double the average global rate, at 22.1 per 100 000 population compared to the global average of 11.4.

Over the course of six months this year, between April and September, a total of 60 suicides per 100 000 people were recorded per month, based on a total 361 suicides per 100 000 that were committed over that period. Erongo had the highest number of suicides and the Kunene Region the lowest, at 63 per 100 000 of the population compared to 12 per 100 000.

Numbers don't lie

Nangombe said the study revealed that women are more likely to attempt suicide, while men are significantly more likely to die.

Nangombe was speaking at the conclusion of a week-long in-depth consultation led by a world-renowned authority on suicide, Professor Ella Arensman.

Nangombe emphasised that suicide is a “serious social, economic and public health concern”, with devastating effects on individuals, families and communities.

He said the study on the prevalence of and interventions in relation to suicide was conducted in order to boost Namibia's commitment to reducing the high number of attempted and actual suicides.

Data was collected from all regions between April and September 2016.

The results of the study would be used to inform the development of a five-year national strategic plan on suicide prevention, Nangombe added.

He said a critical factor was to attend to the social well-being of all Namibians as a matter of priority.

Professor Arensman of the University College Cork in Ireland, the director of research at that country's National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF), praised Namibia's efforts to prevent suicide and the launch of its second national strategic plan on suicide.

Boost with law

She said the strategy puts the country well on track to become the first African country, and one of few globally, to implement a legislative suicide policy.

Arensman said the factors that increase the risk of suicide in Namibia, according to the just-released study, include an increasing trend of alcohol and drug abuse, including methamphetamines and crack cocaine.

She said non-fatal suicidal behaviour, including among teenagers, was on the increase worldwide.

She said another factor, also relevant to Namibia, is a “certain disconnectedness from family members, whether it's conflict or related to changing patterns of family status.”

She said this pushes adolescents closer to their peers, an important bond for teenagers, but not always ideal in stressful or conflict situations.

Unwanted pregnancies are also thought to escalate the suicide risk among teenage girls.

“That is a worrying phenomenon,” she said.

Namibia's WHO representative, Dr Charles Sagoe-Moses, said an estimated 793 000 suicides were recorded globally in 2016.

It was the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds globally in 2016.

In Africa, suicides are particularly high among the elderly, but there is also a peak among the young, he said.

Suicide by intentional pesticide ingestion is among the most common methods of suicide in the world, and of particular concern in the rural, agricultural areas of Africa.

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