Loss: KZN Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and Lumka Mbuli, a relative of Professor Bongani Mayosi, light a candle in his remembrance after the academic committed suicide recently after a two-year battle with depression.
Cape Town - To mark World Suicide Prevention Day a Stellenbosch psychology senior lecturer, Dr Jason Bantjes, has called for government to create a National Suicide Prevention Strategy.

According to the lecturer, who does research on the prevalence and prevention of suicidal behaviour, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds; there is one completed suicide every hour in South Africa.

Bantjes said although the country has developed policies such as the National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan, which partly address suicide, it doesn’t have an explicit and comprehensive strategy to prevent suicides.

He said the frameworks lack sufficient detail on suicide prevention to be effective. “We need leadership to achieve the kind of integration and co-operation required to reduce suicide rates in our country.

“It indicates a clear commitment from government to prioritise and address suicide, while providing leadership and guidance regarding evidence-based approaches to suicide prevention. It also draws attention to the scope of the problem and identifies crucial gaps in existing data, legislation, service provision and training,” he said.

Bantjes added that a strategic plan could help establish a framework for an integrated and comprehensive research agenda, helping to ensure that researchers collect the kinds of evidence needed to curb suicidal behaviour.

Estimates by the World Health Organisation are that worldwide 800000 people die by suicide each year.

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 says despite the prevalence of suicide, it remains a mystery why government has been slow to invest resources in developing a comprehensive and integrated national suicide prevention strategy.

“We should use opportunities like World Suicide Prevention Day (today) 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,” he said.

SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) agreed that there was a need for a co-ordinated comprehensive plan adopted by all provinces and all departments.

Sadag’s operations director Cassey Chambers said: “Because depression, mental health anxiety and suicide are psycho-social issues it would be great to have such a plan in place; however, from my experience we have a great mental health policy on paper, but we know it’s not implemented exactly, like the case of Life Esidimeni. We need to ensure the plan is adopted and implemented”.

Chambers said government needed to prioritise suicide prevention. She said at the moment Sadag was the only organisation that runs a suicide helpline in the country, but it still doesn’t get any government funding.

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Cape Argus