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Malawi registers 87 suicide deaths in 6 months

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By Tiyese Monjeza

He did not leave a note before committing suicide for people to know why he had to take his own life.

But his wife suspects his husband was depressed after losing his vehicle in an accident. That lose left him with K300,000 debts and unable to feed his family of 6 people.

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The car, a Toyota Sienta which he used to ply the Mangochi-Monkey Bay route, was his only source of income after he was retrenched from work.

One day, Michael Jika was found hanging in a tree close to his house at Chimvuwu Village, Traditional Authority Nankumba in Mangochi District.

In May this year, two young men from Machinjiri Township in Blantyre separately committed suicide in a space of two days.

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Blantyre Police spokesperson then, Augustus Nkhwazi, said the two did not leave any note to help the law enforcers identify the reasons why they took their lives.

Jika and the other two other young men are among the 87 people who committed suicide in Malawi from January to June this year alone.

According to police records, 84 of those are men aged between 20 to 45 years. And the 87 suicide deaths were 57 cases higher than those during a similar period last year.

Amid the ravaging Covid-19, Malawi is also suffering alarming levels of suicides.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) over 800,000 people commit suicide every year globally, translating to one person every 40 seconds.

WHO further lists suicide as the 17th leading cause of death in the world as it accounts for about 1.4 percent of all deaths worldwide every year.

The UN body says about 80 percent of suicide cases occur in low and middle-income countries where the majority of people live below the poverty line.

It says stigma, particularly surrounding mental disorder and suicide, means that many people thinking of taking their own lives are not seeking any help and therefore not getting any help to prevent them.

Research indicates that more people especially in low income countries commit suicide by self-poisoning using pesticides while in rich countries, about 60 percent commit suicide by using guns.

Apart from mental disorder, poverty and family issues are among the leading reasons forcing people to commit suicide in Malawi, according to Harry Kawiya, a mental health expert at Zomba Mental Hospital.

Kawiya said lack of psychological support seeking behaviour is leaving people to suffer lengthy struggle with depression, ultimately resorting to suicide.

He further argued Malawians are currently exposed to some modern lifestyle for which they do not have enough disposable income to finance.

“As a result,” he said, “some of them enter into debts which they have no any feasible means of paying back.”

Kawiya further bemoaned that Malawi does not have enough counselling facilities that could provide mental support.

But why is it that more men commit suicide than women?

According to Kawiya, most men do not have the habit of speaking out their issues while women readily pour themselves out when they are depressed.

“Men are very unlikely to complain if they are facing domestic violence, but the truth is that men are facing a lot of challenges within their families and at work.

“We need to find ways of creating space for men to start feeling safe and free to seek help when they are in need,” he said.

He commended government for facilitating incorporation of mental health lessons in all medical studies.

This, he said, will make sure that all health workers have capacity to assist people who have mental problems across the country.

But he appealed to government to ensure that counseling services are available in the country so that people depressed can be getting help.

He however stressed that preventing suicide is the responsibility of every individual.

“Let us adopt living within our means to avoid entering into unplanned debts,” he said.

In Malawi, attempting to commit suicide or aiding suicide is criminal, according to the Penal Code.

The Penal Code says any person who procures another to kill himself; or counsels another to kill himself and thereby induces him to do so; or aids another in killing himself is guilty of a felony, and shall be liable to imprisonment for life.

It further says any person who attempts to kill himself shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.

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