This year in July, one South Africa-based Zimbabwean, Bhekimpilo Moyo, phoned his relatives telling them that he was committing suicide because his wife of 15 years allegedly had an affair with a South African man.
Moyo then took pictures of a poisonous substance before taking it. As he lay dying, he took relatives step by step through the dreadful ordeal until he breathed his last.
Moyo is among the many Zimbabweans who died prematurely and left their loved ones in distress after committing suicide, hence it has become important for the world to raise awareness on suicides.
It is against this background that, World Suicide Prevention Day was observed on September 10, to promote worldwide action to prevent suicides.
About 3 000 people commit suicide daily, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives. About one million people die by suicide each year. WHO informs us that every 40 seconds, someone, somewhere in the world takes their own life through suicide.
Although suicide is the 19th most common cause of death in Zimbabwe, it is a major preventable cause of premature death which is influenced by psycho-social, cultural and environmental risk factors that can be prevented through responses that address these main risk factors.
In an interview with Harare-based psychiatrist Charles Sibanda, said suicidal reactions may vary from anger, distress, ridicule, anxiety, tension, fear, sadness or any intentional determination to end one’s life.
“The causes for a suicidal intention can be complex, ranging from social, economic, health, cultural, political, religious and other areas of individual’s life. Suicide is multi-factorial in nature, cumulative due to a number of causes which are progressive and operate over a period of time. Even sometimes an impulsive suicide can be extremely difficult to understand,” said Sibanda.
He added: “A passing suicidal thought happens to most of the individuals in a sudden life crisis or a traumatic situation. An individual passing through any of these phases may think, attempt or complete the act. Some individuals, due to their inability to cope with the stress or lack of adequate support mechanisms, finally find suicide as an option. However, the word option itself indicates that there are choices.”
Sibanda highlighted that the major steps towards preventing suicide were identifying the problem in various dimensions, understanding risk factors, and identifying what works in individual societies.
“An early recognition of the warning signs and professional assistance can help to save a life.
If you notice any behavioural change in your loved ones, you should talk to them. Be a good listener as it will help them reduce stress and tension,” he said.
In a statement, Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) national spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said that from the police statistics, the major causes of suicide in Zimbabwe were mainly social problems such as marital problems, financial problems, mental illness and substance abuse.
Police reports indicate that suicide cases among males are higher than females and are tied to the stress associated with the failure to meet society’s expectations to fend for the family while females’ suicide cases are associated with depression.
“ The figures we have indicate that males are dying by suicide more than females like for example, we are seeing in 2015 we had 656, whereas in 2016 there were 818 cases, 2017 had 389 cases, 2018 had 499, and there were 496 cases for 2019. Then females in 2015 were 108. In 2017 there were 135 cases while in 2018 there were 97, and 2019 there were 69,” said Nyathi.
This prevalence makes suicide an immediate problem that requires urgent medical and social solutions within our communities, because not doing so is robbing the country of people who succumb to this menace at the prime of their lives.
As part of efforts to understand why people commit suicides we interviewed people who had lost their relatives through suicide to figure out if they noticed any suicide triggers before their loved ones died.
Simangaliso Dube, who lost her mother due to suicide in 2013, joined the world in commemorating the World Suicide Prevention Day, taking into cognisance the effects of gender-based violence that have also caused suicide.
Dube, who is also a counsellor, said it was imperative to ensure that people with suicidal tendencies are taken for counselling, listened to and even referred to the Zimbabwe Republic Police Victim Friendly Unit which uses different approaches to deal with people with suicidal tendencies.
“Victims of gender-based violence need psychosocial support, because if they do not get it on time some of them end up resorting to suicide. We have seen even cases of children as young as 10 years getting into difficult situations where they think no one can help them and they end up contemplating suicide. What they need is a listening ear and a solution,” she said.
Dube said some of the causes of suicide included failure to cope with discoveries such as one being diagnosed with malignant illnesses like diabetes, cancer, and HIV, mental illness, and joblessness which causes feelings of unworthiness, among several other issues.
“There is a need for swift intervention in terms of counselling so that the person knows that they can survive their problems instead of committing suicide,” she said.