Our grim suicide reality

Worrying statistics indicate that Namibia is ranked fourth on the continent and 11th globally for its suicide rate.

04 April 2019 | Social Issues

An estimated 25 000 Namibians attempted suicide in 2015, while 2 331 Namibians died by suicide between 2011 and 2015.

The high number of suicides in the country prompted the health ministry to conduct a study in 2016, which described suicide as a major public health concern. The majority of suicides, 85.5%, were by hanging, followed by shooting (10.5%). A small number of people (1.2%) died by overdosing on drugs, and an equal number used poison or other toxic substances such as battery acid to end their lives. Very few people drowned themselves, cut their wrists or jumped from high places.

Of the 2 331 people who died, 84.4% were men and 15.6% women. The study found that men are five times more likely to die by suicide than women, but women more likely than men to attempt suicide or harbour suicidal thoughts. Another finding was that most suicides are committed by people between 20 and 39 years old. Only about 5% of the

2 331 people who died by suicide left a suicide note. The report also found that only one in 10 people who have attempted suicide had reached out for help.

Of the 90% who had not reached out, one third argued that it would not have made a difference or that others would not understand. The report found that the Oshana Region had the highest suicide rate in the country, followed by Otjozondjupa, Ohangwena, Hardap and Omusati.



Alarm bells

According to 2015 data, Namibia's suicide rate is 22.1 per 100 000 people - double the global average of 11.4 suicides per 100 000 people.





In Africa, Namibia is rated as the country with the fourth highest suicide rate and globally, the country ranks 11th.

Nearly 54% of the survey respondents said they knew someone who had committed suicide. “In Namibia, as elsewhere in the world, self-directed violence is a serious social, economic and public health concern and challenge that has a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities,” former health minister Bernhard Haufiku states in the foreword of the study report, released in October 2018.

The report contains a number of recommendations for the development of a policy to guide suicide prevention, treatment and management.

Although suicide is serious public health concern, it is preventable through proactive and coordinated responses, the report states.





Networks

While more than half of the respondents in the study felt that family and friends would be open to discussing suicidal thoughts, only 38.9% felt the community as a whole was open to such discussions.

Moreover, more than 64% said their communities regarded suicide as a sin, which constituted a barrier to reaching out for help. The study also found that when people contemplating suicide reach out, there is often a lack of help available. “Even when family, friends and religious leaders are sympathetic, they lack the skills to be able to offer the support needed, and they do not refer the at-risk person to formal service providers.

“Limited access, lack of understanding of how to secure services, and concerns about the ability of service providers to help are also determinants.”

Yet the study also found that most of those who had reached out after an attempted suicide did not repeat the attempt. The study emphasises that suicide has no demographic, geographic and socio-economic boundaries; it affects rich and poor countries alike.

Namibian police statistics also show that there is little difference between the suicide rates in urban and rural areas.

In 2014, the World Health Organisation estimated that each year more than 800 000 people die by suicide, and 20 times more people attempt suicide.

It is estimated that by 2020, global suicides will increase to 1.5 million a year.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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