Minister of Health Sylvia T. Masebo has attributed the spate of suicide cases recorded in the country recently to mental ill-health.
A number of suicide cases have been reported in Lusaka, Kitwe, Kalulushi, and Kabwe in the first quarter of 2022.
Ms. Masebo said mental ill-health is one of the greatest challenges facing Zambia today amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions imposed on people’s daily lives have had and continues to have, a significant impact on the population’s mental health.
Ms. Masebo cited bereavement, isolation, loss of income, and fear as some things triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.
“Individuals who have suffered from mental ill-health include health care providers, people who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19 and people who have survived COVID-19. Many who have recovered from COVID-19 are still experiencing some symptoms even after the recovery from the acute phase of COVID-19 disease. This is also referred to as “long COVID” which is overwhelming to bear,” she said.
“Due to the many social and economic changes that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed communities too, mental ill-health is one of the greatest challenges facing us today? The COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions imposed on our daily lives has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on our population’s mental health. Bereavement, isolation, loss of income, and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones,” she said.
Ms. Masebo said:” Many people in our communities are struggling with mental ill-health, which is affecting their life choices and outcomes. We have seen an increase in substance and alcohol abuse cases across the country. Sadly, we also observe a concerning number of suicide cases and self-harm cases reported in media, healthcare facilities, and police stations. Zambia has in the recent past witnessed an increasing number of suicide cases or suicide attempts reported in media mainly among young adults. The rate of suicide alarming articles and posts have overwhelmed social media. These have further exposed people to stressful situations and worry.”
She revealed that 89 people allegedly died by suicide in 2021.
“While the data on suicide cases in Zambia is limited, the World Population Review estimates the suicide rate to be at 7.3 per 100,000 people. According to statistics prepared and released by the Zambia Police Criminal Investigations Department, 89 people allegedly died by suicide in 2021 among these, the majority are males (72) compared to females (17). Indeed, you may have followed increasing reports of suicide cases lately in our country.”
“The high incidence of suicide cases may be attributed to impulsive decisions in moments of crisis, when the affected is not able to deal with life stressors. These stressors include financial problems, relationship break-ups, chronic pain or ill health, conflicts, disasters, violence, abuse, loss and a sense of isolation, stigma or discrimination and civil disputes amongst family members, friends or neighbours. Further, suicides may be caused by mental health illnesses. Individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses or have suffered a symptom of mental illness are at a higher risk of death by suicide due to the nature of brain health,” Ms. Masebo said.
She pledged that the Ministry of Health would continue to escalate awareness on suicide prevention.
“The Ministry of Health is therefore, taking these incidences of suicide and suicide attempts as a medical and psychiatric emergency of public health concern. I am therefore directing all health facilities through Provincial Health Directors to ensure that mental health, suicides and suicide attempts be given utmost urgency of attention. Government continues to strengthen mental health and psychosocial services at primary health care level using a multisector approach. Currently, all hospitals, particularly provincial hospitals have Mental Health Units equipped to support suicide cases. The Ministry of Health will continue to expand services on prevention and health promotion for mental health services as well as suicide prevention throughout the country,” she said.
Ms. Masebo urged members of the community to be involved in suicide prevention by strengthening peer support groups.
“Government will continue to engage various stakeholders such as Religious Leaders, Traditional Leaders, Teachers, Social Workers and particularly the media on prevention of suicide. The government has also incorporated mental health services and up-skilled health staff in COVID-19 response to include tailored mental health services in psychological first aid. The government will also look at options to create safe-homes for individuals facing mental health crises. These safe-homes will offer counseling and social support, particularly in emergency situations,” she said.