Monday, 20 February 2017

Here We Beat People Who Attempt Suicide

Last week, a man jumped from the unfinished building along Katondo street in Lusaka. This was a suicide attempt and fortunately even though the man jumped from 11 storeys he survived. However, you would think the first thing that the crowd would do was be willing to help, call an ambulance or break into prayer, but instead they wanted to beat up the man. The crowd wanted blood. It was a clear representation of how suicide is still viewed by some people in our society. It was a shame of the highest order.

Abandoned building along Katondo
Suicide is still viewed as a weakness. Forget the fact that it might be as a result of a number of issues such as depression, mental illness, emotional troubles and other problems that cannot be seen like a wound. This has been my contention for a very long time. We know how to be empathetic towards someone who is sick, who has a bandage or someone who is injured, but we are miles away from understanding mental wounds and scars.

I do not know what would have caused the man to want to take his life. Regardless of the reason, I would never view his action as cowardice. However, that is how many have been programmed to view suicide, as an easy way out. When someone has malaria, tuberculosis, or a headache, we immediately urge them to go to the hospital. You buy them fruits, give them medication, sleep by their bedside and tend to their every need until they get better. But where does someone who is depressed go, someone with post-traumatic stress disorder, or schizophrenia? Who is there to take care of them? In this rainy season, there are public announcements reminding us to boil or chlorinate our water. We are warned to visit the nearest health centre if we have any symptoms of cholera. However, I have hardly heard any such public announcements for people who are depressed or are facing mental challenges. Where is their hotline?

Do we assume that because it is in the mind and there is nothing bleeding it is not a serious illness? Worse still do we even believe that it is an illness? When people believe that the best way to treat the man who attempted suicide is to beat the hell out of him, we should be ashamed of ourselves as a society. Who in their rightful mind would beat someone who is sick of malaria or cancer? Yet we want to teach the person who wants to take their life a lesson. The crowd wanted to land punches and kicks before they asked the reason why? Some in the crowd could even be heard urging him to jump. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year approximately one million people die from suicide, which represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds. It is predicted that by 2020 the rate of death will increase to one every 20 seconds.


We need to make it okay for people to talk about depression, suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar, or the voices they hear in their heads. This is a health problem, and it cannot be shooed away like a mosquito. People need someone to talk to. Others might require medication, and some might require checking into a hospital. We need more health centres with the capacity to treat mental illnesses. This is not a problem for the church or government to deal with; this is our problem. I sincerely hope that the man who wanted to end his life gets the right kind of help he needs.