One suicide is reported every hour in South Africa, and although it is a very serious problem, there are little to no comprehensive national suicide prevention strategies in place. These are the findings of Dr Jason Bantjes, a senior lecturer in the Psychology Department of Stellenbosch University.
Bantjies conducts research into the prevalence of suicide in South Africa and its successful prevention. His work is vital and is supported by a grant from the South African Medical Research Council.
“Although suicide is a serious public health problem, very few low- and middle-income countries have national suicide prevention strategies, even though 80% of suicides occur in these settings. South Africa, like most countries in Africa, does not have an explicit and comprehensive strategy to prevent suicides,” Bantjes said.
According to Bantjes, national government has developed policies such as the National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan.
“However, these frameworks lack sufficient detail on suicide prevention to be effective substitutes for a dedicated comprehensive evidence-based National Suicide Prevention Strategy,” he said. “We need leadership to achieve the kind of integration and cooperation required to reduce suicide rates in our country.”
Statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that 800 000 people die by suicide each year, and that it is the second leading cause of death in the world’s population, aged between 15-29 years old.
“For every suicide death there are estimated to be at least another 20 suicide attempts. Each suicide affects a large circle of people. Some studies suggest that as many as 35 people are seriously affected by each suicide,” Bantjes said in reference to the WHO’s statistics.
He added that it remains unclear why the state has been slow to invest in resources that will bring a comprehensive and integrated national suicide prevention strategy to fruition.
Bantjes says, the interdisciplinary approaches, multilevel strategies and inter-sectoral collaboration needed to prevent suicide can only be successful if there is a clear and effective national suicide prevention strategy, as well as clear leadership from national government.
“It indicates a clear commitment from government to prioritise and address suicide, while providing leadership and guidance regarding evidence-based approaches to suicide prevention,” he said. “It also draws attention to the scope of the problem and identifies crucial gaps in existing data, legislation, service provision and training. Furthermore, it identifies the human and financial resources required and sets up a robust monitoring and evaluation framework to ensure that progress is being made towards reducing suicides. Crucially, a national strategy creates accountability by clearly identifying those who will be responsible for suicide prevention in the country.”
Although there is research being conducted into suicide prevention in South Africa, Bantjes is of the opinion that it is unintegrated.
“Because suicide prevention is complicated and so many factors contribute to it, we need a more co-ordinated research network to strengthen capacity and advance suicide prevention practices in South Africa,” he said. “We should use opportunities like World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September) to advocate for a national strategy and resources for suicide prevention. Taking action to protect the lives of all South Africans is an integral component of nation building and core to promoting democracy in our country.”