Suicide rates rise sharply in Tanzania amid economic, social woes
Experts believe lack of effective strategies to deter suicidal thoughts fuels problem
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania
A recent stark increase in suicide rates in Tanzania highlights a growing mental health crisis plaguing the society as young people experience bouts of toxic emotions that lead them to take their own lives, experts have warned.
Suicide mortality rates among people aged 15 to 29 have increased significantly in Tanzania during the past decade as people end their lives by hanging, poisoning, and shooting themselves, according to official data.
In 2016, more than 3,000 people killed themselves in Tanzania, placing the country fourth in Africa with the highest suicide rates.
As the world marks World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10, mental health experts in Tanzania have urged authorities to adopt effective suicide prevention strategies to rescue the younger generation.
Suicide is a major public health problem accounting for approximately 6% of all deaths in young people. Globally, one person dies of suicide every 40 seconds, cumulating to about 800,000 deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization.
While officials link suicide to a mental health crisis, researchers have established strong correlations between suicide and social and economic crisis such as unemployment, family conflicts, failed marriages, domestic violence, and unwanted pregnancies.
While Tanzania is banking on young people to drive its economic future and bring social development, the majority of them face a serious identity crisis that deters them to realize their potential.
Praxeda Swai, a senior psychiatrist and mental health specialist at the Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania, said young people often kill themselves when they fail to solve the emotional problems they face.
“We are in the middle of a serious mental health crisis,” she told Anadolu Agency.
According to her, the toxic mix of psychological problems due to social and economic woes could trigger a wave of suicides among young people who are still learning what life is about.
At a busy Sinza suburb in Dar es Salaam, local residents were shocked when 29-year-old Alex Korosso, an accountant with a local firm, killed his friend after an argument over a drink and shot himself in late July.
According to eyewitnesses, the visibly disturbed young man reached his decision after he was disappointed in his relationship.
Despite being a major public health threat, experts say suicidal behavior has not been thoroughly investigated, thus prompting more people to kill themselves.
Swai urged the government to adopt effective suicide monitoring and prevention strategies to help young people cope with stressful situations.
“Many people who are mentally troubled don’t always seek help. Identifying people at risk of suicide can help save their lives,” Swai said.
One important way to reduce the risk of death by suicide is to keep the victims from lethal medications and firearms.
“We must enhance life skills and help young people manage stressful situations,” she said.
A family secret
While death by suicide is the worst nightmare for parents, psychologists say most such incidents are often treated as a family secret that is not thoroughly investigated to protect other children from a similar fate.
Charles Mallow, a Dar es Salaam-based psychologist, said talking to the people on the verge of committing suicide can save their lives.
“If you are worried about your depressed child, you should openly talk to him/her and ask if he/she has suicidal thoughts,” Mallow said.
Mary Lyatuu visits her daughter’s grave at the Kinondoni Cemetery in Dar es Salaam every evening as she comes to terms with the loss so overwhelming months after her daughter took her own life.
“I feel pain in my heart, my daughter did not say goodbye to me,” she mourned.
Despite the eerie silence, solitude and darkness that engulf the cemetery, Lyatuu holds her rosary when she silently recites the litany of the Virgin Mary, as she desperately tries to find answers to hard questions plaguing her mind.
Lyatuu’s daughter Sarah, who was struggling with suicidal thoughts after she had failed to secure a job despite her impressive academic qualifications, took her own life early this year.
Meanwhile, Jorum Makumbi, a resident of Mwanza in northern Tanzania, still remembers a phone call he had received from his neighbor informing him his son Bakari is gone forever.
“It was the most traumatic experience of my life that I don’t want to recall,” he said.
On a fateful day, Makumbi was working in the field when he received the shocking news about his 21-year-old son who hanged himself using a bedsheet.
“I still struggle to understand the reasons that led my son to kill himself,” he said.