South Africa sees an estimated 23 suicides and 460 attempted suicides a day, the South Africa Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) announced as the world marks Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day.
“The youngest suicide case in South Africa was a 6-year-old child. So we know that suicide does not discriminate,” SADAG’s Operations Director Cassey Chambers told Anadolu Agency in an email interview.
“Men in South Africa are four times more likely to die by suicide than women,” she added.
Chambers said it is normally a combination of issues that pushes someone to end their life. “It is never just one thing or reason that causes someone to end life. We have found that the main factors include undiagnosed or untreated depression, relationship issues, financial issues, and trauma,” she explained.
Running the country’s dedicated Suicide Crisis Helpline, SADAG gets thousands of calls daily from distressed people, and has some of the most reliable data on suicides in the country.
Chambers said that in a bid to prevent more suicide cases, SADAG provides free support, crisis intervention and help nationwide.
“We also provide training for corporates, communities, schools, teachers and parents on suicide prevention,” she said.
The group, which relies on private donors to help pay its utility and telephone bills, creates awareness through online platforms and works closely with the media to educate the public, share important information about suicide prevention, and encourage people to reach out for help.
“I attempted to end my life twice after I lost my business and my wife left me. But thanks God, I received professional help,” a suicide survivor in Fordsburg, Johannesburg told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.
He said he had lost hope when his business was looted in one of the townships in Johannesburg, added to which his wife left him due to their financial woes.
COVID-19 and mental health
Asked if the COVID-19 pandemic has had any impact on mental health, Chambers said: “Absolutely, there has been a direct impact on mental health since COVID-19 lockdowns. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls to our helplines.”
She said before the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, SADAG was getting about 600 calls per day, but then overnight the call volume doubled to 1,200 per day.
“Now, 18 months later, we are fielding over 2,200 calls per day. And this figure excludes the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of emails, WhatsApp, and SMS messages from people reaching out for help each day,” Chambers said.
She said the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled increased feelings of isolation, vulnerability, trauma, depression, and anxiety among all age groups, races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds.
She said while they are encouraged that so many people who are in crisis or need urgent help are reaching out to them every day, there are still unfortunately too many people who do not know about SADAG or how to get help.
A taboo subject
Although the suicide rate is still high, talking about it has often been viewed as a social taboo and shameful topic, with many too people scared to talk about suicides, SADAG said in its World Suicide Prevention Day press release.
Zamo Mbele, a clinical psychologist and SADAG board member, said: “You don’t need to have all the answers. People are often reluctant to intervene for many reasons, including fear of not knowing what to say or saying the wrong thing.”
He said it is important to remember there is no specific formula. “People in distress who are thinking about suicide are not looking for specific advice. They are looking for compassion, empathy, and a lack of judgment,” he said.
Mbele stressed the importance of raising awareness and normalizing conversations around mental health, especially taboo topics such as suicide, to encourage more people to speak up and reach out for help.
“Being mindful of how we speak about mental health and suicide can create safe spaces for people who are not able to open up, share or feel safe enough to ask for help,” said SADAG.