Suicide is the 19th most common cause of death in Zimbabwe, with 1 641 people taking their own lives in 2018, about 1,3 percent of all deaths.
National University of Science and Technology (NUST) Vice Chancellor Professor Mqhele Dlodlo now wants a determined effort to combat the “looming crisis”.
Addressing delegates during a two-day Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention Seminar at the NUST campus, which focused on mental health issues and finding ways to prevent them, Prof Dlodlo said statistics showed that 1 641 cases of suicide were recorded in 2018, while 1 838 people perished through road traffic accidents the same year.
“According to WHO, 1,3 percent or 1 641 deaths were due to suicides,” he said.
“To put this into perspective, in the same year, 2018, it was reported that 1 838 people died due to road accidents.
“What this clearly indicates is that we must treat suicides in Zimbabwe as a looming crisis just the way we do road traffic accidents.
“Most such deaths are by hanging. Police reported 142 such cases in the first three months of 2019.”
Suicide is linked to mental illness, in particular to depression, and can be found in rich and poor countries.
Serious depression can be effectively controlled with modern drugs and other medical techniques, but it is necessary that those who are drifting into suicidal depression are identified and referred to competent medical practitioners or psychiatry specialists as early as possible.
Younger people under high pressure can be more susceptible to serious depression, hence the effort by NUST to do something practical to prevent suicide by improving awareness of the mental health of every student.
Speaking on the sidelines of the seminar, Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education chairman Professor Kuzvinetsa Peter Dzvimbo said the programme was important in the prevention of cases of suicide among students.
“If those issues are not handled properly, they may end up becoming a serious mental health problem,” he said.
“In most cases, they may lead to children committing suicide. So, it is important for the university staff to be able to identify and possibly prevent such cases.
“Imagine the loss that a nation incurs when an engineering student commits suicide.”
Dr Nemache Mawere, a psychiatrist, said people spend more time at work or at school than at home or relaxing, hence solutions that deal with mental health problems should come from the same places.
“As employees (we) spend most of our time at the workplace or work-related environment much more than we do at home or recreational facilities,” he said. “It is, therefore, most likely that the greater part of any social stresses or sorrows that we experience emanate from our workplace.
“Ironically, the expectation is that the solution should come where we spend the least time, outside our work place.”
Dr Mawere said students spent most of their time at the university campus, hence that was where solutions to their mental problems should come from.
“Similarly, students spend most of their time learning or at learning related institutions than at home or recreational facilities,” he said. “Ironically, when death or illness strikes, it is those with whom students spend least of their time with that care the most.”
Dr Mawere urged the media to report responsibly, especially on cases that dealt with suicide.
“Sometimes the media should make a blackout of such issues because students end up copying such things,” he said. “For example, there was an issue of a Harare pastor who committed suicide by throwing himself from a building. A student also did the same at the same spot. So, sometimes such cases must be reported responsibly.”