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Speak out, get help on depression: Experts weigh in on spike in suicides brought on by lockdown, Covid-19

An image of a noose

With an increase of 90% in the suicide figures in Gauteng, health and traditional experts are urging community members, particularly young people to seek help when burdened with life’s challenges. File Picture

Published Nov 29, 2021


PRETORIA – Reports of the massive rise of suicide cases in Gauteng, reported to have soared by a devastating 90 percent increase from 695 cases to 1 325 cases during the 2019/20 financial year have sent shockwaves, but mental health experts and cultural experts believe there is help available for the distressed.

Cape Town-based clinical psychologist Dain Peters said that in times of anxiety and distress during the Covid-19 pandemic,one needs to do a proper assessment of the situation and make changes, including to their financial standing.

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“Secure safety first, putting in place sensible infection prevention strategies. Masks, disinfection, avoid big gatherings. Do not do anything unless you are assured that of its safety,” said Peters.

“Do an assessment of your resources – including but not limited to finance. Establish what your situation is, what needs to be cut back on and what opportunities there are for study, maintenance and side jobs. I think situations always present opportunities for something new if you are just creative enough. In order to be creative, you got to be safe.”

He also appealed to community members going through difficult times to create routines and predictability, in the face of such uncertainty.

“Ordinary life routine can buoy us. Eating, sleeping and exercising regularly. We are not used to living like this; there is a lot of uncertainty. We don’t know whether it’s gonna get worse … there is a lot of unpredictability. To counter that, we need to put a lot of predictability and routine as much as possible. That means in your everyday life, you can start to wake up at the same time, eat at the same time and go to sleep at the same time,” said Peters.

He also urged community members going through difficult times to process what is happening, either through professional help or by engaging the communities around them.

However, Peters cautioned people to discern and protect themselves from social media sites that can inflame catastrophe and paranoia.

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“Actively seek out information sources that you trust. I am advocating that people talk to people, to process what is going on. There are some people that are going to make you too excited and too scared and make you panic. You have to work out who is going to be a good person to contain you, or who is going to light a lot of fire underneath you,” said Peters.

He also recommended that people find strategies to “disengage”.

“Have strategies that would help to disengage. People normally say you got to engage, but people also got to take a break from engaging. Whatever you can do to disengage, to distract yourself, to forget it for a moment – that helps,” he said.

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While going through the difficult periods, Peters also recommended that people actively promote downtime where one can reclaim the things that support them, especially those things that one immerses in.

“Some people find it when they are doing sport, when they are running, they forget who they are. Some do it with art. It’s that thing which reminds you of who you are, it can be a spiritual thing … whatever restores you.”

Regarding nurturing one’s spirituality, Pretoria-based traditional healer Sekuru Shumba Gurundoro said young people find themselves burdened with spiritual issues, without a support structure of a family.

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“Sometimes you just need someone to stand by you and tell you that it is not the end of the road, it is just a bend, and the road continues. In this life, many tend to look at their lives in terms of kilogrammes not in terms of kilometres. By so doing, you do not look back to see how far you have come. You feel stuck in one place and that time you also feel that I have gained a lot of weight sitting around my life and gaining the kilos at one place,” he said.

“Many young people are thrust into problems due to love and relationships, whereby one party is committed and the other is not. By committing suicide, one does not take time to reflect on the problems they are leaving for the living who remain. This is a problem we need to address spiritually, psychologically and personally we have to have these conversations with ourselves. We need to stay positive.”

Traditional healer, Sekuru Shumba Gurundoro said the high suicide rate is a call for help particularly from young people across South Africa faced with financial and relationship issues. Photo: Supplied

Gurundoro said in the vast networks of communities he works with, there is greater need in young people to talk to professional counsellors but the service is just unavailable.

“I do not think the government is doing enough. For you to get the counselling, you should go and pay but some of the people do not have money. Counselling would help in getting people back to the path. This needs all of us, including those with spiritual eyes, to put our minds together and we can win against the scourge of suicide,” he said.

Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Faith Mazibuko has revealed that the loss of income during the Covid-19 pandemic is among the contributing factors that led to people ending their lives.

Mazibuko informed members of the Gauteng legislature that leading factors also included depression, financial difficulties, death of family members and domestic violence.