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Continued suicide monitoring over festive season important

Suicides continue over the festive season as exam results arrive. Suicides among young people are the fourth leading cause of death in South Africa. Image: Creative Commons

With the year drawing to a close continued monitoring of the suicide rate over the festive season is important. During this period many people are under pressure from exams, retrenchments and other causes of strain that lead to severe depression and are likely to trigger suicidal urges if people do not get assistance.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, 60% of suicide deaths among young people are directly related to depression. Tied to this are a number of factors that make South Africans anxious. Suicides among young people remain the fourth leading cause of death among this demographic in South Africa, according to the South African Medical Research Council.

Unlike the rest of the world where the peak season for suicide incidents is between spring and early summer, not during the winter months as popular opinion has it, in South Africa stress-causing factors such as the release of examination results happen at the end of the year or just at the beginning of the following year.

The highest suicide rates around the world, recorded at more than 15 people per 100,000 population, are mainly in Russia and India but also include a dozen countries spread mainly in West Africa and the some parts of Eastern Europe. The lowest rates are seen in the Middle East and some parts of the Far East.

Of those who attempt suicide, most are either unsuccessful or prevented from carrying it out by some form of intervention.

In Africa the country with the highest suicide rate is Equatorial Guinea where 22.6 suicides per 100,000 people far outstrips the West African ratio of 8.8 (per 100,000 population). This is in a country where suicide ranks as the top twenty causes of death beating all cancers and surpassing killers such as rheumatic heart disease, asthma and poisoning. Like South Africa the leading cause of death in the country is HIV/Aids which causes 16.4% of the deaths.

South Africa matches the global average of 10.7 (per 100,000 population). The country is among 19 countries above the continental average. Concerning in the country is the increase in the number of suicide-related incidents towards the end of the year. Added to this is the alarmingly higher percentage of suicide deaths in males compared to their female counterparts.

Although there are more suicide deaths among men, the trauma of gender-based violence against women is among the causes of depression which could lead to suicide. Thandekile* suffered abuse from a male partner that left her with permanent physical and psychological scars. The beating was so severe that she ended up wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life.

Thandekile now lives in a safe-house that protects women who are victims of gender-based violence in Johannesburg where she and receives ongoing support and rehabilitation.

The trauma coupled with the challenges she now faced as a person living with a disability drove her into a severe depression.

According to WHO consequences of Intimate Partner Violence include depression, suicide attempts, post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious mental health disorders.

“That thing of living with disability, it stressed me, it gave me depression I stressed everyday I didn't want anything I didn't want to live anymore. I forgot my child, my daughter was just five then, and they ended up calling a psychologist,” she said.

Depression is among the various factors that Thuli Ngubeni, of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), says is a major trigger of suicidal thoughts and eventual deaths. The organisation becomes inundated with stress calls regarding exams results and work-related strains like retrenchments, lack of promotion and other causes of anxiety.

A World Health Organisation on study discussing the impact of intimate partner emphasises the strong link between the violence and adverse mental outcomes among women.

"The more severe the abuse, the greater its impact on a woman’s physical and mental health, and the impact over time of different types and multiple episodes of abuse appears to be cumulative," the study found.

This is related to what Jason Bantjies, from the psychology faculty at Stellenbosch University, refers to as social aspects that should be seen as important in mental health.

“A growing body of literature documents how socio-cultural, political and economic factors may also be implicated in suicidal behaviour,” he says.

How people feel about their achievements when the year draws to a close affects how they perceive their prospects and the overall worth and meaning of their lives.

“Feeling trapped, hopeless and powerless can give rise to the desire to die. Likewise the experience of thwarted belonging, shame and perceived burdensomeness have been associated with suicidal behaviour,” Bantjies explains.

*Name withheld to protect the person's privacy against secondary victimisation.

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