World Suicide Prevention Day falls on the 10th September annually. From the Global Health Estimates report, South Africa has the third-highest suicide rate out of all African countries, at 23.5 per 100,000 population.
Suicide, suicide attempts, suicidal ideation and self-harm are public health concerns affecting every country, including South Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded uncertainty, hopelessness, and inequality. Anyone can be affected by suicide. Just this year the country has seen the loss of high-profile celebrities including actor Patrick Shai and musicians Riky Rick and Tumi Tladi.
Despite recent news reports that there is a new ‘trend’ with men dying by suicide, this is not new. The statistics showing that men die by suicide more than women has long been recorded. “As long as we’ve been recording it, we’ve seen this disparity,” says psychologist Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice-president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a health organisation that supports people affected by suicide.
Now, more than ever, we must encourage action promoting suicide prevention. Suicide is not inevitable and can be prevented with timely, evidence-based interventions. 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 those offered by 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 dying by suicide, including within the incoming National Health Insurance.
- 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).
- Fund gender-sensitive prevention programmes targeted at men. In South Africa, men are four times more likely to die by suicide compared to women. This alarming statistic requires a targeted public health response.
SAFMH encourages everyone to act when it comes to preventing suicide. This year we have teamed up with Waves for Change and other key experts host a joint webinar titled Suicide Prevention in South Africa, which was a space for dialogue, education, and advocacy.
You can watch the webinar recording below.
Throughout September our advocacy and awareness efforts will:
- Encourage dialogue and understanding about suicide as a public health crisis, not a moral failing of an individual and/or their family
- Amplify 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.
- Support our community-based mental health affiliates in their screening and detection of at-risk people within their communities.
Deputy Director of SAFMH, Leon de Beer, urges that:
by showing compassion or caring enough to simply ask ‘Are you ok?’ you might end up extending someone’s life.
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, operates 24 hours, and offers counselling in all 11 official languages.
Additional FREE hotlines for support with your mental health include:
- Dr Reddy’s Mental Health Helpline on 0800 21 22 23. This number is free and operates 8AM – 8PM every day.
- Cipla Mental Health Hotline on 0800 456 789. This number is free and operates 24 hours.
- The Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline on 0800 70 80 90. This number is free, operates 24 hours and offers counselling in all 11 official languages.
- The Substance Abuse Helpline on 0800 12 13 14. This number is free, operates 24 hours, and offers counselling in all 11 official languages.