A total of 1 542 Namibians took their own lives between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2023.
This means that on average, the country recorded over one suicide per day, with the vast majority of victims – about 82% – men.
This is according to statistics provided by the Namibian Police.
In July, The Namibian reported that 679 suicides had taken place in Namibia between January 2021 and May 2022. These incidents involved 559 men, 91 women, and 29 children.
Police spokesperson deputy commissioner Kauna Shikwambi said unemployment, poverty, depression, rejection, hopelessness, family problems and poor self-worth were common causes of suicide in Namibia.
In 2022, the World Health Organisation said Namibia continues to have one of the highest incidents of suicide in Africa, at an estimated rate of 9,7 in every 100 000 people, with the rates higher among males than females.
This is the fourth highest compared to neighbouring South Africa (23,5 per 100 000 people), Botswana (16,10) and Zimbabwe (14,1).
Gender and child protection specialist Veronica Theron cited traditional male roles that discourage emotional expression among the reasons behind these statistics.
“Men are told they need to be tough and that they should not ask for help. Such rigid gender norms may make it difficult for men to seek support when needed,” she said.
Additionally, men might be more likely to self-treat symptoms of depression with alcohol and other substances, leading to underdiagnosis.
Theron said mental health problems such as depression and other mood disorders, coupled with traumatic events and a lack of coping skills and social support, contribute to the high suicide rates in Namibia.
Moges Admassu, a specialist psychiatrist at Oshakati Intermediate Hospital, said men are much less likely to acknowledge and report possible symptoms of mood disorders like depression.
They consider their symptoms to be less severe in comparison to women while this is not the case.
“Some symptoms are more common in men than women. These include irritability, sudden anger and increased loss of control, risk-taking and aggression.
“Women tend to ‘act in’ when faced with psychosocial suffering, while men ‘act out’. This ‘acting out’ often involves high levels of alcohol and drug misuse, dangerous risk taking, poor impulse control and increased anger and irritability,” he said.
Police statistics show that 1 542 Namibians have taken their own lives since 2020.
Statistics from the 2022/23 financial year reveal that 430 cases of suicide were reported among men compared to 82 cases among women, while 12 boys compared to three girls out of 15 minors were reported to have taken their own lives.
The statistics from the previous financial year show that 396 cases of suicide were recorded among men and 68 among women, with 12 boys and seven girls.
In June, 11-year-old Christopher Boois of Keetmanshoop became another suicide statistic.
According to the police, the 11-year-old boy and his younger brother went to school in the morning to collect their report cards where Boois was allegedly confronted by a group of boys wearing masks, who attacked him. Although the incident was reported to the principal, upon returning home, Boois took his own life.
The following month, a 35-year-old Stephanus Kinda reportedly took his own life at Walvis Bay. His body was reportedly discovered by a co-worker at the construction site where he was employed as a caretaker.
At the beginning of January, a seven-year-old boy took his life at Omaruru.
World Suicide Prevention Day is commemorated every year on 10 September, and this year the theme is ‘Creating Hope Through Action’.
According to the World Health Organisation, the day aims to reduce stigma, focus on suicide, and raise awareness among the public and organisations that suicide is preventable.
THINKING IT, SAY SOMETHING
Theron said individuals displaying suicidal thoughts or discussing suicide must not be left alone and should seek professional help.
“No one has all the answers, and people are often reluctant to intervene, thinking they lack the knowledge,” she said.
Theron stressed the importance of simply listening with compassion and empathy when someone is in distress.
FIND A SAFE SPACE
Highlighting the significance of community, Theron said individuals are connected to family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, or teams and sometimes they become isolated and disconnected from these support groups.
Health minister Kalumbi Shangula also spoke out against the high suicide rates among his gender.
“It’s disheartening to hear of the growing number of our people taking their own lives. We need to foster a culture of openness, empathy and understanding, where men feel comfortable discussing their mental health without fear of judgement,” he said at Oshakati on Friday, during a conference on mental health and psycho-social support for men.
Shangula said the onus is on both the health sector and society to eliminate the harmful perceptions on mental health and create an environment that promotes open conversations about men’s mental health.
LEADERS, STEP UP
Shangula said policymakers, healthcare professionals and advocates should put in place initiatives that address the specific challenges men face in accessing mental health services.
The Ministry of Health and Social Services plans to table the mental health bill during the current session of parliament, Shangula said.
The bill has been on the cards since 2020.
Meanwhile, deputy health minister Esther Muinjangue attributed men’s reluctance to express emotions to their upbringing.
“From a young age, boys were always told not to cry, they are men and they are not supposed to show their emotions. They grew up with that perspective,” she said during the campaign against suicide in Windhoek.
She said now that they are grown ups, when they are going through something they do not talk about it because that is not how they were brought up.
“Because you would hear people saying ‘well, I’m not surprised that they did that because for the past two months you could see the change in the person’. But what did you do?” she asked.
Muinjangue called on society to pay attention to changes in people’s behaviour that might be indicative of emotional distress.
She challenged individuals to take action rather than being passive observers.