Suicide Rate Worrying

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK At least 80 percent of suicides being committed in Namibia are a direct consequence of depression coupled with social economic difficulties, family violence and unrealistic expectations. This startling revelation came about yesterday as the country joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Mental Health Day. In a speech read on his behalf in Windhoek yesterday, the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi called on Namibians to be supportive of one another under such difficulties. “I ask our communities and work colleagues to show compassion, understanding and respect to those individuals among us who have mental health problems, mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse problems,” he said. Defining suicide as a form of self-inflicted violence, Kamwi said the suicide problem in the country touches the hearts of many people and as such, Namibians could not ignore or be unworried about the rate at which such incidents are reflected daily in the media. “Preventing suicide and reducing the rate of suicide in Namibia is therefore an urgent public health issue,” he said. The minister, however, admitted that although the suicide problem demands attention, the reality is that prevention and control are unfortunately no easy tasks. He stressed there is a need to empower the public in recognizing the danger signs of distress and depression so that people could easily identify those at risk. “There are many ways to raise awareness about suicide such as from person to person, within the community and as a nation, and there are several actions we can take to prevent suicide,” he said. Current statistics reveal that the suicide problem in the country remains a huge concern. Most cases are reported in the northern parts of the country. In Omusati only, more than 40 people have since January taken their own lives. Previous statistics show that in 2003 only, a total of 444 suicides were reported to the police throughout the country, while in 2004 some 154 cases were handled by the police over a five-month period. A Windhoek-based clinical psychologist, Shaun Whittaker, described the suicide rate as scary when one looks at the country’s population. Whittaker says most suicides take place during summer and over the holidays. This, according to the expert, is due to the fact that suicidal people are lonely and when they see others happy, they wonder as to what life is all about and hence they resort to suicide. “They carry the feeling that no one cares about them and suicide to them is one way they can get out of their misery. “Suicide is a crime and most people who commit it do not necessarily want to take their lives but it is due to the fact that they have no one to talk to,” said the clinical psychologist in relation to the statistics. Although many myths still surround suicide with most parts of the country and the world at large stigmatizing and condemning it for religious or cultural reasons, Kamwi reiterated a need for Namibians to show social support to those showing symptoms of depression. Government, he added, is intervening in dealing with the challenge of drugs and alcohol abuse within the communities. “The Ministry of Trade and Industry is in the process of regulating the promotion of alcohol products. We want to ensure that our children are not exposed to alcohol promotion,” Kamwi said. He added it is crucial that the government restricts access to means such as weapons and lethal medications in order to prevent suicide. Besides that, the minister emphasised that the support infrastructure needs to be expanded greatly for a multi-pronged, integrated and comprehensive approach to suicide prevention. In the same vein, he called on parents and teachers to look out for changes in behavior and mood in adolescents especially those who have gone through major family or personal disruptions. “I honestly think that to be very effective at designing stronger societal support systems, we must understand youth subculture, youth communications…and the type of support structures they have,” he said. Unemployment, poverty and workplace problems, among others, remain the main contributing factors leading to suicide. “Our ultimate goal is to have as many people as possible in Namibia communicating about suicide prevention not only for one day, but every day on every occasion.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is the 13th leading cause of death.