AT a funeral held recently in rural Karoi, not only was the corpse not allowed to enter the house, it was whipped, cursed and buried with all its personal belongings.
This was a case of suicide.
The act of flogging a corpse is believed to be a way of purging the evil spirit that prompted the act of suicide from affecting relatives.
There may be different customs and traditions in Africa but, generally, across the continent, suicide is frowned upon.
Cases of suicide are on the rise on the continent.
According to WHO, Africa has the world’s highest rate of deaths by suicide.
The organisation reported that in 2022, around 11 people per 100 000 per year died by suicide in Africa, higher than the global average of nine per 100 000 people. This is due, in part, to inadequate measures to address and prevent the risk factors, including mental health conditions which currently affect 116 million people, up from 53 million in 1990, reported WHO.
Common cases involve drug and substance abuse and overdose, drowning, hanging as well as pesticide self-poisoning, among others.
September is Suicide Awareness Month and experts opine it has become critical for communities around the country to come together to address the issue of death by suicide.
World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) is commemorated on September 10 each year.
The day was agreed upon in 2003 by the international Association for Suicide Prevention in conjunction with WHO and its major focus is to amplify attention on the issue, reduce stigma and raise awareness among organisations, governments and the public, giving a singular message that suicides are preventable.
According to data collected during a study on suicide ideation of adolescents in Sub-Saharan Africa conducted by Regional Psychosocial Support Initiatives (REPSSI), Zimbabwe is listed as one of the nations with the highest rate of adolescents thinking of committing suicide.
Without doubt, this is a cause for concern and data released by WHO, as of 2019, shows that Zimbabwe has a suicide mortality rate of 14,1 deaths per 100 000 population.
WHO also estimates that there are more than 700 000 suicides each year, with each suicide creating a ripple effect among friends, families and spouses.
The suicide case in Karoi is of a 38-year-old man who left behind a young wife with five children, four of them below the age of 10.
A report conducted in Africa titled ‘Suicide in Africa a Neglected Reality’ also emphasises that the suicide rate in the African region is the highest in the world.
This clearly highlights that suicide is a phenomenon that is affecting both high and low income countries.
Several countries in the African region stand out as having the highest suicide age adjusted rates in the world, namely Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Central African Republic, Botswana, Eritrea and Cote d’Ivoire.
According to WHO, the African region is home to six of the 10 countries with the highest suicide rates worldwide.
Studies also show that in Africa, for each completed suicide there are an estimated 20 attempted ones.
However, in Zimbabwe, different civic organisations and the department of community development in the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) are working together to prevent suicide cases.
The ZRP and other organisations, such as Musasa Project and Justice for Children and Childline, among others, have opened their doors to the public, offering counselling services to prevent suicides.
In a remark on efforts to reverse suicide and mental health crisis in Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa has stressed the need for Africa to prioritise suicide prevention efforts.
“Suicide is a major public health problem and every death by suicide is a tragedy. Unfortunately, suicide prevention is rarely a priority in national health programmes,” he said.
“Significant investment must be made to tackle Africa’s growing burden of chronic diseases and non- infections conditions such as mental disorders that can contribute to suicide.”
WHO is supporting countries to step up mental health services in the region.
Zimbabwean Primary Healthcare workers are being trained under WHO initiative to boost quality and access to mental health.
In Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, initiatives to develop country investment cases for mental health services have been concluded and mobilisation of resources is underway.
Last year, African Health Ministers gathered for the 72nd Session of the WHO health meeting endorsed a new strategy to reinforce mental health care and set 2030 targets that: “…all countries to have a policy or legislation on mental health, 60 percent of countries implementing the policy, 95 percent of countries monitoring and reporting on key mental health indicators and 80 percent of countries have a budget for mental health services.”
Communities continue to be urged to provide social support to vulnerable individuals, engage in a follow-up care, fight stigma and, more importantly, support those bereaved by suicide.
It is important for people and communities to know that suicide prevention is everybody’s business and it is a shared community responsibility, involving individuals, families, government and non-government agencies at local, State and national level.