World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) is commemorated annually on the 10th of September. This year, The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) will be focusing on the global theme of Creating Hope Through Action, which will run until 2023. In keeping with this theme, we join worldwide efforts in calling for prevention and alternatives to suicide. Suicide is preventable and treatable provided that help (in the form of policies and interventions) is accessible. This year we hope to inspire everyone to understand that by taking action, they too can make a change and help support those who may be struggling.
Suicide, suicide attempts, suicidal ideation and self-harm are public health concerns affecting every country, including South Africa. Accordingly, WSPD – created in 2003 by The World Health Organisation (WHO) and The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) – shines a light on this. Globally, one in every 100 deaths is because of suicide. Seventy-seven percent of suicides occur in lower-and-middle income countries, like South Africa where it is estimated that every day, 23 people lose their life to suicide.
The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded uncertainty, hopelessness and inequality. Now, more than ever, we must encourage action promoting suicide prevention. Suicide is not inevitable and can be prevented with timely, evidence-based interventions.
Currently, suicide is illegal in 20 countries. This makes it very difficult for people to share any suicidal or self-harm thoughts. Being able to freely share this without fear of judgment or criminalisation is extremely important to ensure those who are struggling obtain the support they deserve. Fortunately, South Africa’s policies do not discriminate against people who have chosen to end their own life, nor their family members.
Furthermore, while the South African government and key NGOs do provide suicide prevention initiatives to defuse and prevent acute (serious) suicide from taking place, such as national suicide hotlines like SADAG and Lifeline, more suicide prevention and treatment efforts are needed. Three clear examples of this could be:
- Fund ongoing, accessible therapeutic contact with people at high risk of taking their life, including within the incoming NHI
- Fund research and implementation of community-based outpatient services (e.g. the SAFETY program) for people who have attempted suicide
- Reduce known risk factors for suicide (e.g. unemployment) and harness protective factors (e.g. hope and self-esteem)
This WSPD, SAFMH encourages everyone to take action when it comes to preventing suicide. At SAFMH, we will do this by:
- Supporting our Mental Health Societies to encourage their communities to take action through reaching out to others
- Encouraging dialogue and understanding about suicide as a public health crisis, not a moral failing of an individual or their family
- Listening and sharing the stories from people with lived experience. When it comes to suicide, we often read about the numbers and data and forget that there are faces and stories behind them.
Deputy Director of SAFMH, Leon de Beer, urges that we: “work together and open our eyes to the harsh reality that suicide is real, it’s everywhere, and it can affect anyone. Let’s not absolve ourselves from our responsibility to stop, listen and help when we think someone might need it. By showing compassion or caring enough to simply ask ‘Are you ok?’ you might end up extending someone’s life”.
For people interested in taking action, this could include:
- Donating to keep your provincial suicide and/or crisis hotlines operating
- Checking in with and listening to your loved ones about how they are doing
- Being mindful of your own mental health, and reaching out when you might need extra help
We call on The South African Government to play a proactive role in the prevention of suicide, including supporting the work of mental health organisations and working to create a better social and economic safety net for the people of our country. We also call on our academic institutions to support students, especially before and during exams, to ensure sufficient provision of available mental health care support.
Help is available. For those who are suicidal and need help or are unsure how to help someone in need, contact the National Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567. This number is free and offers counselling in all 11 official languages.
Image by Dan Meyers on Unsplash