Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Health Reporter
HEALTH experts in Bulawayo have raised concern over the increase in parasuicide cases — suicide attempts where the intention is to draw attention to a personal problem rather than to cause death.
Official numbers of people ingesting pesticides or overdosing on prescription drugs show a 50 percent increase from last year.
The most commonly used parasuicide substance are pesticides, but of late some have been overdosing on TB and antiretroviral medication.
Statistics from Mpilo Central Hospital show that a majority of patients being rushed there for emergency treatment are aged between 14 and 30.
Reasons for attempted suicide range from failed love relationships, disputes over inheritance, economic challenges and general drug abuse.
Mpilo Hospital acting chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said in the past five months, parasuicide cases had gone up by 50 percent.
“We have seen a huge increase in parasuicide cases and the sad part is that it involves teenagers as young as 14 years. Sometime last year, we would deal with at most eight cases monthly, but in the past five months, we handled more than 15 cases,” said Prof Ngwenya.
“Some of them die while under our care and although others are treated and put through counselling, an overdose of any drug is detrimental to one’s organs.
Reasons behind these attempts are also shocking as they include love squabbles, failed love relationships, disputes over inheritance and the list goes on.”
He blamed the rise in parasuicide cases on family disintegration as people are no longer able to solve their disputes within the family circle.
“Some of the poison includes TB medication or ARVs in large quantities.
The most commonly used are pesticides and this is because there is a lot of unregulated sale of pesticides on our streets,” he said.
Prof Ngwenya said the increase in suicide attempts was putting a strain on the already struggling healthcare system being burdened by Covid-19.
“We are busy trying to save lives with the limited resources we have, but we see others trying to take their lives; honestly it’s stressful.
We urge members of the public to control their anger and never voluntarily ingest poison for whatever reason because there is more to life than any social problems, they may find themselves in,” he said.
Local psychologist Miss Jacqueline Nkomo said Covid-19 after effects could be fuelling suicide attempts as the pandemic left thousands of people prone to depression.
“We cannot divorce the increase of parasuicide cases in Bulawayo from Covid-19 as we know that it has led many into depression.
“The economy too is also affecting many households and with job losses, disruptions in industry etc, people are depressed and without proper social support, they may consider suicide,” said Miss Nkomo.
She said families should invest in spending time together and normalise speaking out whenever one is facing challenges.
Miss Nkomo also advised parents to establish healthy relationships with their children, especially teenagers, so that they pick behavioral changes that may lead to suicide attempts.
Bulawayo provincial police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube blamed suicide attempts on the weak social fabric.
“The solution lies in healthy relationships which should be cultivated among parents, cousins, siblings, aunties and uncles.
We should all learn to open up about anything good or bad in the family circle and do activities that help us bond,” said Insp Ncube.
“We have noted with concern that we are recording an increase in rape cases by and on juveniles.
People no longer value relationships and the spirt of sisterhood and brotherhood is dead. We also have issues to do with pride where someone thinks they are from a rich family and therefore cannot be heard speaking about social challenges.”
He said parents and teachers should assess the moods of teenagers so that they pick up any mental challenges and attend to them on time.
“Secrets and failure to accept disappointments are also causing increasing these cases, including grief where people fail to understand that death is common and can happen to anyone.
As police, we have a public relations department at every station and we are ever ready to listen to these issues and offer support to distressed members of the community.
We also have committed non-governmental organisations helping us address mental health issues,” added Insp Ncube.
Local pastor Sikhumbuzo Dube said churches and spiritual leaders should be deliberate in raising awareness on suicide.
“Our problem is that in religious circles we have labelled stress and being low as a sign that someone does not have enough faith.
People are pushed not to open up and encouraged to declare that they are too blessed to be stressed,” said Ps Dube.
“So that teaching often makes people not freely open up when they’re in distress or going through challenges socially.
We need to create awareness around suicide so that members of the public are equipped with skills on how to deal with that whenever they find themselves in a position where they have given up on life,” he said.
He added that religious leaders should not demonise suicide or merely pray for people with problems, but offer counselling that helps them overcome such thoughts.