SA's suicide rate 6th highest in Africa


Durban – About 800 000 people take their own lives every year, with South Africa recording the sixth highest rate of suicide in Africa.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a new report.

It said 79% of global suicide occurs in low and middle income countries.

The report described suicide as a serious problem which needed to be addressed through a comprehensive multi-sectoral suicide prevention strategy.

Wouter Lombard from pharmaceutical company Cipla said data from the WHO revealed that about 11.6 of every 100000 people in South Africa commit suicide.

“It is commonly accepted the majority of suicides and suicide attempts occur among individuals who suffer from depression, with the WHO estimating that more than 300million people are affected by depression worldwide.”

Lombard said that in light of World Suicide Prevention Day, it should be emphasised that depression was in fact a medical condition.

“Just as any other organ in the body can become ill or affected, so too can the brain. Various factors – not just chemical imbalances within certain sections of the brain, can lead to various mental illnesses, including depression.”

Lombard explains that depression is a medical condition that can be diagnosed and treated. 

“It is believed that around 50% of individuals with depression do not receive treatment. Some of the signs and symptoms of depression include persistent feelings of sadness and suicidal thoughts.”

The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) believes better suicide prevention and intervention measures need to be implemented in schools and communities in the light of research showing the high rate of suicide mortality in South Africa compared to other selected African countries.

“South Africa has a suicide mortality rate that is higher than the comparable rate for Botswana, which is 9.7 (per 100000 population), Egypt which is 2.6, Malawi which is 5.5 and Nigeria which is 9.9. Angola has the highest rate with 20.5.

“Suicide is a problem the country needs to tackle more effectively,” said IRR analyst Tawanda Makombo.

Typically, he said, a sense of hopelessness or a feeling that there were no solutions to life’s difficulties prompted thoughts of suicide.

Makombo said that in South Africa’s case factors such as unemployment and economic hardship, combined with the insufficiency of suicide prevention and intervention services could be reasons for the country’s high suicide mortality rate.

“Proper suicide prevention and intervention measures must be set up in schools and communities if this problem is to be tackled.”

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) believes one of the ways to curb suicide, especially among teenagers, is education.

“Teen suicide is becoming more common every year in South Africa with 9% of all teen deaths being caused by suicide.

“There is a major link between depression and suicide.

“Most of the time teen depression is a passing mood. Sadness, loneliness, grief and disappointments we all feel at times. They are normal reactions to life’s struggles. However, undiagnosed depression can lead to tragedy,” said media liaison officer Kayla Phillips.

She added that teaching children about mental illness at a young age would help prevent suicide.

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