MINISTER of Health Sylvia Masebo expressed disappointment at a rate which suicide cases are being recorded in Zambia, further directing health workers to treat suicide attempts as medical, psychiatric emergencies.

And Masebo says in 2021, 89 people died by suicide, 72 of whom were male while 17 were female.

At a press briefing, Monday, Masebo said a number of individuals who survive suicide suffer serious physical and psychological injuries.

“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 the 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 said.

Suicide is death, caused by self-harm or injuring with intent to die. A suicide attempt is when a person inflicts self-harm with intent to end his or her life, but does not die. This may be due to the individual’s actions or because someone else intervened accidentally thus preventing death. A number of individuals who survive suicide attempts may suffer serious physical and psychological injuries. Globally, approximately 800,000 people die by suicide. Every 40 seconds, one person dies by suicide and suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds. Over 77% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.”

She said according to statistics released by the Zambia Police Criminal Investigations Department, majority of people that committed suicide in 2021 were male.

“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, 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,” she said.

“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. In addition, thoughts of suicide are increased when one is under the influence of alcohol, other mind-altering drugs, depressants, anxiety or psychotic symptoms leading to death. The observed prevalence of suicide, suicidal ideation and attempts is worrisome and attendees in primary health care clinics should be screened for mental health. Suicide is preventable with timely, evidence-based and low-cost interventions. Comprehensive multi-sector prevention strategies are implemented in order to reduce these cases of public health concern. It is important that parents, guardians and peers have knowledge of signs and symptoms of suicide to prevent suicide or restrict access to means of suicide”.

She directed all health facilities, through Provincial Health Directors, to ensure that suicides and suicide attempts are given utmost urgency of attention.

“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. Suicide has negative impacts at individual, family and community level, and leads to reduced national productivity and economic development. It robes the country of very productive workforce and denies families of the loved ones particularly breadwinners. 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,” she said.

“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. Furthermore, the Ministry will continue to escalate awareness on suicide prevention. It will encourage individuals to seek help when faced with difficult situations through various media platforms and interpersonal approaches. The Ministry continues to strengthen psychosocial and mental health awareness in schools and communities.
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 counselling and social support, particularly in emergency situations”.

She urged families to support each other and look out for any alarming suicidal signals on the internet.

“Suicide is preventable and everyone has a role to play to save lives and create healthy and strong individuals, families and communities. Community members should help to respond to suicide ideations or contemplation as an emergency. I would also like to encourage families to strengthen family-bonds. Values that support social cohesion, avoid prejudice and discrimination, perceived or real, including family rejection, abuse, bullying or violence must be promoted. Further, families should support children and the youth to avoid the negative impact of excessive exposure to screen time. These exposures may be on social media, television, gaming and gambling with indiscriminate postings of suicide messages, pictures or acts of suicides. Children may experiment what they see and learn leading to suicide,” said Masebo.

“Further, I would like to implore friends, family members or workmates to watch for signals of suicide on various platforms such as suicide notes, articles, social media posts, lyrics in songs, verbal threats, accessing of dangerous items such ropes or chemicals. Other behaviours such as social isolation, loss of interest in pleasurable activities may also signal intentions. A suicidal threat should not be treated as a joke, attention seeking or a mere say, but should be handled urgently to prevent occurrence.
For individuals contemplating suicide, know that there is always someone ready to listen to you; someone who will show you some love; that no situation is permanent under the sky. Please, develop confidence and be encouraged to seek help from the nearest health facilities or call, lifeline on 116 and child-line 933 to talk to a counsellor. For families and loved ones bereaved by a loss of an individual due to suicide, please do take time to grieve your loss. To everyone, I encourage you to talk to someone when mentally pressured; again I emphasise always talk to someone be it a friend, a counsellor, a neighbour or family member.”