Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The number of people thinking of and attempting to commit suicide is on the rise, according to mental health experts from the Ministry of Health. According to estimates, over 500 people thought of committing suicide or even attempted it between January and June.
Records from the 2020 Police Annual Crime Report show that 197 attempts of suicide were recorded in the country. In 2019, the figure stood at over 200. But as the country battled COVID-19, which resulted in lockdowns and job losses, over the past two years, many people suffered bouts of depression which degenerated into suicidal thoughts.
Dr Hafsa Lukwata, the assistant commissioner in charge of mental health at the Ministry of Health says that they have received many reports of persons who have attempted to take their own lives due to COVID-19. However, she adds that the data is not conclusive and may not give a complete picture of what the situation looks like in the country.
“Some people have not dealt with this disease well. We have heard of cases of people taking their own lives due to the stigma associated with having a family member that has succumbed to the disease. Personally, I know of three people that have committed suicide due to COVID-19 effects,” she added.
She added that the cases are not just in the country at large but also in refugee settlements. According to the 2021Uganda Refugee Suicide Dashboard published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of suicidal attempts recorded as of June 2021 more than doubled the total number recorded for 2020.
As of June, 177 refugees had attempted to commit suicide in the country. 30 of these were successful compared to 309 attempts and 37 successful cases in 2020. According to the Refugee dashboard, 28 per cent of the suicidal attempts were due to family disagreements.
Dr Priscilla Atim, a psychiatrist at Butabiika National Mental Referral Hospital says there are many things that can trigger someone to commit suicide. Some of the most common triggers of suicidal attempts are family disagreements, poverty, domestic violence, mental illnesses and community stigmatisation.
“Depression is the main trigger of suicide. People kill themselves because they have a feeling of hopelessness. They think there’s no hope or solution to whatever circumstance they are in,” Atim said.
Despite suicidal attempts being linked to mental illnesses such as depression, often people whose suicidal attempts are stopped by security forces are arrested and charged before courts of law. Lukwata says handling suicides as a criminal offence does not solve the problem as instead causes stigma.
“People who have suicidal ideations are not fine and they should be allowed to express themselves freely because this is the only way they can get help and not attempt suicide. When someone is hungry or they have a headache, they are able to speak up and communicate that they need food and no one looks at them as if they are mentally ill. The same treatment should be given to people thinking about committing suicide. They should be able to freely seek help without judgement or fear of stigma,” she said.
Figures from the World Health Organisation show that 703,000 people commit suicide annually, with 77 per cent of the cases occurring in low and middle-income countries. Over 20 per cent of people use poison or pesticides to kill themselves.