SA anxiety group reports 40,000 phone calls on its suicide helpline since January

10 September 2019 - 17:19 By Suthentira Govender
Suicide is no respecter of race, culture, religion, socio-economic status or professional standing in the SA context. File photo.
Suicide is no respecter of race, culture, religion, socio-economic status or professional standing in the SA context. File photo.
Image: Getty Images

Financial woes, relationship problems, depression and traumatic events are pushing more South Africans to contemplate suicide.

As the world observed World Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) revealed it received more than 40,000 calls to its suicide helpline since January from South Africans seeking “crisis intervention and urgent help”.

Mental health experts believe it is important to change the narrative around suicide, to address the stigma that comes with it.

Cassey Chambers, Sadag’s operations director, said despite the many awareness campaigns, suicide was still a taboo topic in SA society.

“No one wants to talk about it and parents don’t want to address it with their children, in case they plant ideas.

“Suicide is a very real issue in SA, and we can see that by the increasing number of calls we are receiving every day ...

“The high volume of calls that have come to Sadag’s suicide helpline in the past eight months, has sparked concern. The call volumes are increasing each month, in comparison to last year. So it is concerning,” said Chambers.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years, after road injury.

The most common methods of suicide, the WHO said in a statement, were hanging, pesticide self-poisoning and the use of firearms.

“The recent passing of young SA musician, Kathryn Swain, who died by suicide at the age of 25, Ian Visser, a grade 12 Pretoria pupil who took his own life recently, as well as local singer Nichume Siwundla, are some of the recent suicides we have seen in the news.

“However, there are so many more people who die by suicide that don’t make the headlines,” said Chambers.

Some of the main factors driving South Africans to consider ending their lives include undiagnosed and untreated depression, financial problems, traumatic events and relationship issues.

“Every day people around the country get up and pretend everything is OK, yet on the inside they are overwhelmed, desperate and not coping.

“Many people have no access to mental health treatment or care, or don’t know where to even begin to get the help they need, never mind the stigma that prevents people from speaking up and getting help, until it's too late,” said Chambers.

While most of the callers to the suicide helpline are women, men are more likely to commit suicide than women globally.

Psychiatrist Dr Frans Korb said: “More than 75% of people who die by suicide, tell someone first.”

Korb said it was important to be aware of warning signs, to identity when someone “you care about needs urgent help.”

Although there is no single cause for suicide, Korb said, one of the risks is social isolation, adding that there was scientific evidence for reducing suicide risk by making sure we connect with one another.

Chambers added: “We don’t always know who is struggling, but we do know that one conversation could save a life.”

Sadag runs the country’s only suicide helplines (0800 567 567) offering free telephone counselling, information, crisis intervention and referrals to resources countrywide.