Sui­cide – a global health cri­sis

The Sunday Independent - - HEALTH -

FOR SOME peo­ple who have hit emo­tional rock bot­tom, turn­ing to al­co­hol, drugs and iso­la­tion seems the only way to numb their pain.

Sadly, for a grow­ing num­ber of South Africans who have found them­selves con­sumed by dark thoughts, sui­cide has also been a way out.

It’s some­thing Lyr Welts­man, 19, felt so deeply that she at­tempted sui­cide three times as a teenager.

Be­fore her sui­cide at­tempts, Welts­man said she had used ra­zor blades to cut her­self.

The Joburg res­i­dent re­called the first time she tried to take her life at the age of 14, by tak­ing an overdose. At the time, Welts­man said she had be­come “manic” about her school work and the pres­sure she had put on her­self to suc­ceed.

She was rushed to hospi­tal af­ter a friend alerted Welts­man’s mother to the sui­cide at­tempt. She spent five days at a pri­vate clinic for de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, fol­lowed by a three-week stint at a fa­cil­ity for cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy.

Her sec­ond sui­cide at­tempt oc­curred at 16, in her high school’s toi­lets. Again, she over­dosed, but for­tu­nately she was saved fol­low­ing med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion.

At 17, she se­cretly took 20 pills and went to sleep with her fa­ther be­side her, but woke up vom­it­ing, cough­ing and hav­ing seizures.

“My dad had to give me mouth-to-mouth to keep me alive. I was taken to hospi­tal and stayed three days in ICU.”

Welts­man was re­cently di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der, af­ter notic­ing her er­ratic and emo­tive mood changes.

“I think my de­pres­sion started with my ma­nia at school... it wasn’t as if my par­ents pres­sured me to get the best grades; they were very un­der­stand­ing.

“It’s been a re­ally hard jour­ney but now I am func­tion­ing bet­ter, with a lot of fam­ily sup­port and self work, and just be­ing con­scious of how I’m feel­ing.”

A study pub­lished in the South African Med­i­cal Jour­nal last month, ti­tled, “Sui­cide in Pre­to­ria: A ret­ro­spec­tive re­view, 2007-2010”, re­vealed the rates of sui­cide in the area.

It also high­lighted the is­sue as a ma­jor pub­lic health prob­lem af­fect­ing South Africa and the world.

The re­searchers re­viewed case records at the Pre­to­ria Medico-Le­gal Lab­o­ra­tory from 2007 to 2010. A to­tal of 957 sui­cide cases of vic­tims aged be­tween 14 years and 88 were iden­ti­fied. Among them, 731 (76.4%) were males and 226 (23.6%) fe­males. Death by hang­ing was most com­mon, fol­lowed by a self-in­flicted firearm in­jury.

“The true in­ci­dence of sui­ci­dal in­take of pre­scrip­tion drugs or med­i­ca­tion was dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine, be­cause of a back­log at the state tox­i­col­ogy lab­o­ra­to­ries.

White males and fe­males ap­peared to be over-rep­re­sented among sui­cide vic­tims, but there has been an in­crease in sui­cide among blacks,” the re­searchers said.

Wor­ry­ingly, the re­search also sug­gested by 2020, 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple will com­mit sui­cide an­nu­ally. In 1994, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion de­clared sui­cide as a global health cri­sis.

Marthé Kotze, pro­gramme man­ager at the SA Fed­er­a­tion for Men­tal Health, said the trig­ger for some­one to com­mit sui­cide was dif­fer­ent in ev­ery per­son.

“Usu­ally it may be a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors, such as men­tal ill­ness, sub­stance abuse, or re­la­tion­ship, work or fi­nan­cial prob­lems, which to­gether are over­whelm­ing and make a per­son feel like they are un­able to cope.”

She said the coun­try’s health sys­tem was fac­ing a “se­ri­ous short­age of re­sources and fa­cil­i­ties for men­tal health”.

“There is a short­age of beds in psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tals, psy­chi­a­trists work­ing on the pub­lic sec­tor and com­mu­nity based res­i­den­tial fa­cil­i­ties. As se­ri­ous as these prob­lems are in ar­eas such as Gaut­eng, they are even worse in ru­ral ar­eas,” said Kotze.

She im­plored govern­ment to pri­ori­tise men­tal health and fully im­ple­ment the Men­tal Health Pol­icy Frame­work and Strate­gic Ac­tion Plan, to im­prove the qual­ity of care users cur­rently re­ceive.

For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion or coun­selling, con­tact the Sui­cide Cri­sis Line: 0800 567 567/ SMS 31393, or the Sadag Men­tal Health Line on 011 234 4837.


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