Suicide, what you need to know

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Do you know approximately 800 000 people commit suicide every year? Furthermore, do you know South Africa is sitting in sixth place in Africa with the highest suicide rate?

As frightening as these facts are, the World Health Organisation (WHO) claims suicide is one of the leading causes of death among people between the ages of 15 and 29. Furthermore, out of all the suicides, approximately 79% comes from low-to-middle-class families.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group claims the average suicide rate in South Africa is 17.2 per 100 000, which makes up 8% of all deaths. However, what makes this figure shocking is that this figure only relates to deaths reported by academic hospitals. This means the figure is much higher.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, the most popular methods of suicide are hanging, shooting, gassing and burning. Overdosing on medication is also on the list.

Estimations link 60% of all suicides in South Africa are through depression.

Dr Londeka Mnikhathi, a local Newcastle psychiatrist, says while depression does play a key role in suicide, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for people committing suicide.

“When it comes to suicide, it is assumed it is most likely linked to depression. But it is rather difficult to prove,” she says.

When it comes to suicide, Dr Mnikhati says one also needs to look at psychopathology. This is the scientific study of mental disorders, including efforts to understand their genetic, biological, psychological and social causes.

As well as developing classification schemes which can improve treatment planning and treatment outcomes; understand the course of psychiatric illnesses across all stages of development; more fully understand the manifestations of mental disorders, and investigate potentially effective treatments.

Dr Mnikhati says there are extensive studies, with autopsies being carried out on people who committed suicide. She says these autopsies were done to determine if there is a biological reason for suicide.

“In the studies, it was discovered the majority of suicide victims had low levels of serotonin.”

While its biological function is complex and multifaceted, modulating cognition, reward, learning, memory, and numerous physiological processes, serotonin has a popular image as a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.

Dr Ndukuzakhe Mbatha adds that while there are incidents of suicide in Newcastle, it is difficult to determine how many cases actually occur in our town. “Unfortunately, it is only those who make it into the news that we hear about.”

Dr Jason Bantjes, a senior lecturer in the Psychology Department of Stellenbosch University, says for every suicide death there are approximately at least another 20 suicide attempts.

He explains some studies suggest as many as 35 people are seriously affected by a person who commits suicide. Which leaves a trail of trauma behind.

“Suicide is a devastating experience for the person’s family. Those left behind will often experience shame and inappropriate guilt. They will also experience strong emotions and trauma issues as suicide is such a traumatic experience,” says Dr Mnikhathi.

Dr Mbatha agrees and explains following a suicide, those left behind will often experience depression. “If they witnessed the suicide, they might even develop PTSD.”

“For those who are contemplating suicide, seek help as fast as possible. There are organisations such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Groups who will assist. You can also visit your doctor as contemplating suicide is a psychiatric emergency,” says Dr Mnikhathi.

Dr Mbatha adds when it comes to treating an individual who is considering suicide or has attempted to commit suicide, the first step is for the individual to seek help.

“The psychiatrist must assess the person and the severity of their mental health. As psychiatrists are guided by the Mental Health Care Act, we have to follow the three methods which it prescribes.”

These methods include a where person voluntarily seeks help. They will go to a facility such as the Mediclinic Newcastle Kintsugi Wellness Centre.

Then there is assisted admission when a person does not refuse treatment but is unable to think clearly for themselves.

Then there is involuntary admission, where people are put in centres such as those in Madadeni and Utrecht.

With suicide affecting scores of South Africans, it is an issue we as a community cannot ignore the fact that people need help.

Mediclinic Newcastle is currently running a free weekly support group for those living with depression and anxiety. The group is registered with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group. 

The meetings take place every Tuesday at the Kintsugi Centre, Mediclinic Newcastle. It starts at 6 pm and is open to people living with anxiety or depression. There is no cost. For more information, contact Mediclinic Newcastle on 034 317 0199 / 0041 / 0096.

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