Every year, 10th September is marked as World Suicide Prevention day. The day focuses on raising awareness of how preventable suicide is.
Suicide is a public health issue that affects individuals from different backgrounds and of all ages. It affects families, communities and the entire country and often leaves long-lasting effects on the people left behind. 10th September is Suicide Prevention Day 75% of global suicides occur in low and middle-income countries; however, some societies have moral objections against suicide. Currently, Uganda is ranked among the top six countries in Africa in rates of depressive disorders according to the World Health Organisation which often results in suicide.
In 2020 alone, 80 suicidal deaths were reported in Northern Uganda.
The commonest methods of suicide in Uganda include; ingestion of pesticides, hanging, drug overdose, fatal injuries, suffocation and drowning. There’s never a single specific cause of suicide, but it’s always an interplay of behavioural, socio-economic and psychological factors that compel individuals to finally anticipate suicide.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 800,000 people die by suicide every year. The estimated annual mortality is 14.5 deaths per 100,000 people which is around one person every 40 seconds worldwide. Suicide occurs throughout the life span and is the 2nd leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds globally. The risk is greater among 19yrs
or younger and 45 yrs or older.
What are some of the suicide warning signs?
To effectively prevent suicide, we ought to know and look out for the warning signs. These include:
● A person’s verbal expressions such as; “I can’t go on anymore”, “I wish I were dead.”, “I won’t need this anymore”, “nobody cares if I live or die.”
● Social withdrawal and depression.
● Reckless behaviour like driving recklessly, crossing the road without precaution.
● Getting one’s things in order such as writing a will, giving away valuable possessions.
● A marked change in behaviour, attitudes and appearances like not observing personal hygiene.
● Preoccupation with death thoughts and dark themes in writing, music lyrics, art among others.
What can be done?
Several interventions can be put in place by individuals, organisations and the community to prevent suicide. These include:
● Conducting cognitive behavioural therapy that involves changing the way people perceive things/situations. With this therapy, individuals change their negative thoughts into positive thoughts.
● Introducing strong policies against the use of alcohol and other substances, and seeking rehabilitation services for those that are already addicted to these
● Seeking medical help for all sorts of mental disorders. Underlying mental disorders which are left unattended to like depression, insomnia, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, and bipolar mood disorders increase the risk of an individual becoming suicidal.
● Increasing social connection/social cohesion for vulnerable individuals. Social withdrawal is typical for suicidal individuals which gives them the liberty to contemplate suicide at any time. Social cohesion helps individuals in facing shared challenges.
● Regulating the content they consume through the mass media. Some mass media content, especially that which publicizes suicidal stories is a danger to vulnerable groups who can easily take up the same methods used by the perpetrators in the stories to end their own life.
● Preventing childhood trauma. Children may become traumatised through physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse like bullying and any other form of maltreatment they may encounter during this early stage of life. This trauma predisposes children to mental disorders like post-traumatic disorders, anxiety disorders among others which can tarry along through adolescence to adulthood, which increases the risk of becoming suicidal.
● Increasing public awareness and campaigns to reduce stigma. It is important to continue raising awareness of suicide and its effects.
● Setting up crisis intervention, counselling centres and telephone hotlines through which people can access assistance whenever needed. This would also encompass having more counsellors trained and stationed at these centres to render the needed support for those in need.
We all need to work together in our respective capacities to extend a helping hand so that valuable lives can be saved.
Dr Benedict Akimana
Mental Health Advocate and Psychiatrist at Rocket Health