Self-harm deaths are preventable, but it starts with knowing what to look for and what to do. pic: pexels.com

A number of high-profile suicides have been in the headlines recently and it is being reported that rates are rising across the country. Self-harm deaths are preventable, but it starts with knowing what to look for and what to do.

“Statistics reflect that the current suicide rate in South Africa is 10.7 per 100 000 people,” said Sarah Lamont, occupational therapist at Akeso Randburg, Crescent Clinic.

“This is reportedly higher than some of our neighbouring African countries and is 62nd when we compare it to statistics globally, she said.

Here are some of the reasons that more people are taking their own lives, according to reports.

  • A rising sense of helplessness and desperation.
  • These feelings have been exacerbated by the rise in unemployment and economic hardship and poverty.
  • Domestic violence and substance abuse are other factors that are indicated in increasing a sense of desperation.

“Shame is attached to mental illness and that stops people seeking help,” said Sandy Lewis, Head of Psychological Services at Akeso Clinics.

“They are sometimes overly worried about others’ perceptions of how well they are coping. This is especially relevant for professionals like doctors who perceive depression as a personal weakness. They don’t want treatment to be visible to others so they often won’t agree to hospitalisation or other treatments that might impact on work or social perceptions. Suicide feels less shameful than visible treatment, and they believe it enables them to keep their pride intact. The real work lies in changing these perceptions,” she said.

Lamont said there signs and symptoms you can monitor in the manifestation of depression:

  • Change in personal hygiene that result in a more unkempt appearance.
  • Changes in appetite that can often lead to unusual changes in weight.
  • Changes in sleep routine, with the individual often feeling more exhausted and needing to sleep for extended periods of time, staying in bed all day or for an entire weekend.
  • Avoidance of social interaction and remaining withdrawn or isolated. They may be less active on social media, for example, and their posts might reflect less energy or positivity than previously.
  • People who are depressed develop poor coping strategies such as an increase in smoking, drinking, and substance abuse. They may also begin gambling as an attempt to find a quick fix to financial pressures. These only have further negative impacts on their levels of desperation and their inability to generate healthier solutions.
  • Work performance may deteriorate and attendance may become problematic. Low energy levels and poor level of motivation can make it difficult to attend to daily tasks, which is particularly evident in the workplace and at home.
  • People who are depressed will also avoid their usual leisure-time activities and there may be increase in activities that allow them to isolate or engage in maladaptive/addictive behaviours mentioned above.
  • Their thoughts may also reflect a general sense of hopelessness that can leave those who engage with them feeling negative and hopeless too. They may avoid conversations and may give you the misleading answer that everything is ‘fine’.

Trusted helplines include: Suicide Crisis Line: 0800 567 567, SADAG Mental Health Line: 011 234 4837 and Lifeline’s Counselling Number: 0861 322 322