“We had to lift him up to cut the rope. He was unconscious and only regained consciousness at the hospital.”
This is how a poet and motivational speaker, whose name has been removed to protect his brother, remembers the chilling events on the day he had to rescue his brother from the grips of death in Windhoek’s Okahandja Park settlement.
Earlier that day, his brother walked into the house from school and proceeded to the bedroom without a word to anyone.
Checking up on him, hours later, the poet and a cousin were confronted with the scene of an attempted suicide.
The poet recently told Desert Radio it was the scariest ordeal of his life.
“He told me he felt unseen and worthless,” he said of his brother who is currently piecing the remnants of his life together, thanks to his family’s intervention.
“We created a place where he felt understood, and listened to him without judging him,” he said.
This family’s ordeal is, however, not isolated.
Last week, with the commemoration of World Suicide Prevention Day 2023, the government revealed that 623 suicide cases were recorded between August 2022 and June 2023.
Out of these, 511 cases (82%) involved men, while 92 (15%) involved women.
Minister of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula says 3,2% or 20 young people were included in the total number of suicides, which is a cause for concern.
“This illustrates that the death rate by suicide is 21 per 100 000 people, with the highest incidence being experienced in the Omusati, Oshikoto and Hardap regions,” he says.
In 2018 Meriam Sheya was 30 years old and engaged to be married to the love of her life. Her nuptials, however, remained a dream.
Sheya’s fiancé married someone else.
This was the start of her mental health battle, characterised by anxiety attacks.
“People, including friends and family laughed and made bad jokes about my failed wedding,” she says, adding that she attempted to take her life.
Sheya was admitted to the psychiatric ward at the Oshakati Intermediate Hospital and was diagnosed with bipolar personality disorder.
She says the treatment helped her get through her darkest days.
“I had lost trust in people and the way I relate to them had changed. I lacked motivation to do things that once made me happy and fulfilled. All I wanted was to die,” she says.
Megman Kamwi (35) from Bukalo village in the Zambezi region says he lost his uncle in 2016, his cousin in 2022, and a friend to suicide.
He says their sudden deaths have not only left questions, but also gaps in his life that can never be filled.
“They seemed to have been going through a lot in their minds, and they could have seen death as the only way out,” Kamwi says.
UNPACKING THE SCOURGE
Benson Mutali, an employee at the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare last week told Desert Radio that depression is one of the major causes of suicide.
He described it as a mental state during which someone feels worthless and hopeless.
This leads to extreme changes in character, such as aggressiveness and a lack of sleep.
“In our cultures we align depression with demonic spirits, but it is a mental illness that can actually be treated,” Mutali said.
Ondonga Traditional Authority spokesperson Frans Enkali says there is no one-size-fits-all solution to suicide.
He says social integration and some adjustments to traditional norms and customs could be of assistance.
“If we do away with the practice of addressing boys and girls separately, we will create a situation where genders understand one another, and this could eliminate a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes,” Enkali says.
Life coach Petrina Simon says: “There is a difference how men and women are wired, but if we introduce these differences to the respective genders at the beginning, it would eliminate the pressures people feel in life as they grow older.”
The issue of absent fathers also came to the fore as a major contributor to the increase in suicide cases in men.
Mutali says many young men have no role models. Acting Zambezi health director Yolanda Lisho says the situation is worsened by a lack of social workers, particularly in the rural areas.
“Social workers in the region are unable to raise awareness of social ills and mental health issues in the rural areas, even though they do outreach services where they can reach,” she says.
She, however, says they continuously raise awareness through hosting sensitisation meetings and using radio on identifying warning signs and available healthcare services.
Nangula Petrus, a community activist at Omuthiya, says: “It is high time we speak up about mental health issues. Suicide is preventable and we all have a role to play to create safe spaces for people in our communities.”