Suicide – a global health crisis
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.