SA men four times more likely to commit suicide than women, WHO report finds

Picture: 123RF/JUMLONG CHOOCHOUI
Picture: 123RF/JUMLONG CHOOCHOUI

Men in SA are more than four times more likely to commit suicide than women, according to a new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The report, “Preventing Suicide: a Resource For Pesticide Registrars and Regulators”, states that almost 800,000 people die from suicide every year globally, or one every 40 seconds.

The WHO has prioritised suicide prevention as it claims more lives than “malaria, breast cancer, or war and homicide”, and the data paints a worrying picture for SA, especially for men.

In 2016, the year on which the data is based, SA recorded 6,476 suicides, which translates into a rate of 12.8 people per 100,000. The report stated that the global age-standardised suicide rate was 10.5 per 100,000 in 2016.

However more concerning was the rate among men. Of the more than 6,000 suicides, 5,138 were men, translating into a suicide rate of 21.8 per 100,000. This is compared with a suicide rate of just more than five women out of a population group of 100,000.

The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), which operates the country’s only suicide helpline, has received 145,000 calls to its 22 lines so far in 2019. 

Firearm or hanging

“The majority of our callers are from females, however some of our more acute or emergency cases are from male callers, especially since men use more aggressive methods of suicide,” said Sadag’s operations director Cassey Chambers.

More aggressive measures include a firearm or hanging, explained Chambers, while women are more likely to use pills or poison.

Monday marks World Suicide Prevention Day and Sadag has again called for better education, improving prevention measures, and ending the stigma around suicide.

“Especially in a SA context where there isn’t even a Zulu word for depression, and men [especially black men] are brought up with the culture that ‘cowboys don’t cry’, men don’t seek help for their depression before it is too late,” Chambers said.

As calls to the suicide helpline increase monthly, Chambers stressed the need for a national suicide prevention policy.

SA recorded the fourth-highest suicide rate in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, with higher suicide rates being recorded in Eswatini, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

The report found most suicides (79%) occurred in low and middle-income countries. These countries are home to 84% of the world’s population. The suicide rate, however, was higher among developed countries (11.5 per 100,000). 

The WHO also said “hanging, pesticide self-poisoning, and firearms” were the most common methods of suicide.

Pesticides are considered a key concern as attempts often result in death, especially when there is no antidote or a health facility nearby.

In Sri Lanka, the WHO explained, a ban on pesticides lead to a 70% drop in suicides between 1995 and 2015. Meanwhile in the Republic of Korea, a ban on herbicide paraquat caused suicides from pesticide poisoning to halve between 2011 and 2013.

The WHO has again called for more urgent measures to prevent incidents of suicide. Measures that have shown the most success include: “restricting access to means; educating the media on responsible reporting of suicide; implementing programmes among young people to build life skills that enable them to cope with life stresses; and early identification, management and follow-up of people at risk of suicide”.

“We need to do more to address and prevent suicide — no one should feel like they are helpless, hopeless and that the only solution to their problems would be suicide. Suicide can be prevented,” Chambers said.

vandermerwep@businesslive.co.za

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