According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Africa has the world’s highest rate of deaths by suicide. The WHO regional office for Africa stated that approximately 11 people per 100,000 people die in Africa, which is more than the global average of nine suicides per 100,000 people.
The most popular methods for committing suicide across the continent include hanging, pesticide poisoning, and, to a lesser extent, drowning, use of a firearm, and overdosing on drugs.
Poverty and economic difficulties have been blamed for the surge in suicide rates across the continent. Many Africans struggle daily to make ends meet, and as a result, many of them have long-term mental health conditions like depression. In addition, conflict and its effects on people’s livelihoods are additional variables that contribute to suicide.
Stigma was also cited as one of the reasons why people tend to avoid seeking help from professionals. A lot needs to be done to break such a stigma and allow people with different cases of mental disorders to seek help.
According to studies, there are roughly 20 suicide attempts for every suicide that succeeds in Africa. In Zimbabwe, there has been a shocking rise in the number of suicide cases by young men because of marital issues.
“Suicide is a serious public health issue, and every suicide death is tragic. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, lamented that suicide prevention is rarely given priority in national health programs.
The WHO statement indicated that the increase in suicide rates is partly due to insufficient action to address and avoid the risk factors, including mental health disorders, that today impact 116 million individuals, up from 53 million in 1990.
According to the recent WHO report, the African region has one psychiatrist for every 500,000 residents, which is 100 times fewer than the WHO recommendation. This is totally unacceptable, and African governments need to invest more in training such personnel.
WHO has started a social media campaign in response to the problem that aims to raise public awareness and rally the support of governments and politicians to enhance focus and financing for mental health programming, including suicide prevention measures.
The campaign was launched on October 10, which is World Mental Health Day. According to WHO Africa, the social media campaign aims to reach more than 10 million individuals in the region. The organization will scale up its efforts after this initial campaign.
Some countries on the continent have started to take the issue of mental health seriously. For example, Zimbabwe is now training primary healthcare personnel as part of a WHO effort.
In addition, advocacy is being conducted in Kenya and Uganda to mobilize resources. Furthermore, the WHO stated that it has helped Cape Verde and Côte d’Ivoire perform a national examination of the suicide situation.
Significant investment is required to address Africa’s rising burden of chronic diseases and non-infectious problems, including mental disorders that can lead to suicide.
In addition to the WHO initiative, African governments and policymakers need to aggressively address the problem of suicides and mental health by starting to fund initiatives that will benefit citizens. Programs should be created to increase awareness, and more hospitals and healthcare workers should receive training. The private sector and employers should also take the issue of mental health seriously.