I was in grade six when a girl from my neighbourhood died. She wasn’t really my friend but was a friend of a friend. As kids, we were excited to be able to attend a funeral, we wore chitenges and vitambalas (headwraps) and rehearsed some songs to sing. As we walked into the funeral yard, it was awfully quiet. When we entered the house, the aunt to the late girl called us aside and warned us that no one was to mourn, as the deceased had committed suicide. We never understood why a suicide death was not to be mourned.

The impact of suicide in communities makes suicide a serious public health problem. Not too long ago, the media was ablaze with stories of a “PDF of a man who allegedly committed suicide due to the infidelity and misunderstandings he had with his wife. This is not an isolated incident as we have seen cases of suicide that involve children as young as 9 years old. The strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt. Other factors are a history of suicide in the family, substance abuse, mood disorders, access to lethal means (keeping guns in the home or easy access to poison), losses such as breakup of a relationship or death of a loved one, academic failures, legal battles, financial difficulties), bullying in schools, chronic pain and the exposure to suicidal behaviour of others.

When people feel desperate and unable to see a way out, suicide becomes the only solution. While others view suicide as a weakness, it takes a lot for someone to turn to suicide and in the mind of the one contemplating suicide, it is a solution. What the person contemplating suicide knows is that, for them it is the only final solution. Despite their desire to put an end to their problem, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. Suicide leaves a permanent scar to the relatives and friends which will never heal as they will always ask themselves what they could have done differently to prevent the suicide.

Most suicidal individuals give warning signs to look out for, which are; talks or writings about death, make comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless, someone who expresses having no reason to live or say things such as “If I cannot be with you, no one will,” people who withdraw from friends or the community, dramatic mood changes, talk of feeling trapped or feel like they are a burden.

When we suspect someone to be suicidal, be there for them either by phone or in person, keep them safe by reducing access to lethal means (hide knives and poisonous substances in the home), help connect them to a therapist and follow up on them. Mental specialists or therapists advise us to not take lightly the threat of a suicide. We are advised to offer hope by letting them know that their life is important, take whatever they say seriously but just listening to what they have to say. Do not argue with a suicidal person, don’t act shocked and lecture them on the value of life and do not blame yourself as you cannot fix someone else’s depression. Teenage suicide is a serious and growing problem as teenage years can be emotionally stressful and parents don’t make it easier by flaunting school results on social media. We are putting too much pressure on our children to succeed and fit in and this can lead to suicide. Watch out for children who are under pressure not only from family members but friends as well. I knocked off from work to find my daughter looking low and when asked what the problem was, she said her cousin had posted something on her status to say, “bafeluka kuno,” I asked her if she had failed which she responded no and I reassured her I was happy she had passed. Sometimes as parents, we might not be aware of the pressures our children go through and we need to take a deliberate effort to be present parents daily in our children’s lives. To parents with children who have not cleared examinations, shouting at them will not help but speaking to them on the best way forward and the need to pay attention and work hard in the next opportunity they will be given.

When a person has had a scandal leaked on social media, as relatives and friends, be there for such as this is the worst moment for one to go through. The mental anguish of walking into a store and everyone recognises you from a trending video is the worst torture anyone can ever go through. It does not matter the standing in society but anyone who undergoes public humiliation deserves some form of counselling to avoid depression, alcohol dependency or suicide.

Report a person whom you suspect to be suicidal to law enforcers and seek medical help for them through hospital management and therapy.

About the author

Aka Monde, is a licensed Professional Counsellor who holds a Master of Science in Counselling from the University of Zambia. She believes in the adage “a problem shared, is a problem half solved.” Speak to your pastor, church elder, elderly family member or see a professional counsellor when in need.

Email: [email protected]