In the context of public health, suicide has always been a concern for global health systems. Developing as well as developed countries are making efforts to reduce suicide cases, considering the mysteries behind it. The key question is: what are the real reasons behind suicide, a phenomenon that has taken on alarming proportions in recent times?

Responding to this question, sociologist and assistant at the Citizen Observatory for Health (OCS), Stélio Nhenheze, says that suicide can be linked to social roles.

According to Nhenheze – who was speaking in the context of the International Day to Combat Suicide, celebrated on September 10 – society puts pressure on individuals to be better, and when they are unable to respond to these roles and pressures, they seek satisfaction and relief in other ways, through excessive alcohol consumption and drug use, but in more serious cases, they take their own lives.

“Suicide can be considered a social problem, because it is practiced by those individuals who are not accepted in family, social and other groups. Society influences the individual in a variety of ways, from sexual orientation, emotions, psychological behavior, way of being and being”, said the sociologist.

Stélio Nhenheze, Sociologist

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is among the 20 leading causes of death worldwide, surpassing malaria, breast cancer, war and homicide. In other words, nearly 800,000 people die by suicide every year.

According to data from the Ministry of Health (MISAU), in low-income countries such as Mozambique, many cases of suicide are linked to moments of crisis, poor ability to manage and deal with life’s tensions, such as financial problems, relationship breakdowns, chronic illnesses, problems at work, conflicts within the family, bullying, among others.

Manica, Inhambane and Maputo are the provinces with the highest number of suicide attempts in the country. The most recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO), dated 2016, puts Mozambique at a rate of 4.9 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Data revealed by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) shows that suicide rates vary between countries, regions and gender. However, more men die from suicide than women (12.6 per 100,000 men compared to 5.4 per 100,000 women).

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the 15-29 age group, which accounts for around 79% worldwide.

Suicide rates among men are generally higher in high-income countries (16.5 per 100,000). For women, the highest suicide rates are found in low-middle income countries (7.1 per 100,000).

According to WHO data published in 2021, suicide rates in Africa are 11.2 per 100,000, in Europe 10.5 per 100,000 and in Southeast Asia 10.2 per 100,000. These rates are higher than the global average of 9 per 100,000 in 2019. The lowest suicide rate is in the Eastern Mediterranean region, at 6.4 per 100,000.

In 2021, suicide attempts in the youth and adolescent age group increased significantly compared to the previous year, while in 2020 the number of attempts was 3,000 and the following year data from the Ministry of Health (MISAU) indicated that more than 4,000 people attempted suicide in the country.

For her part, psychologist Celma Ricardo, also interviewed by OCS, argues that when talking about suicidal thoughts, it should be borne in mind that “the person is already thinking about committing suicide. The person begins to idealize the act and then begins to manifest it through words, actions, changes in behavior and more.”

“To get to the stage of depression, you first go through anxiety. If the anxiety isn’t dealt with, the person can develop depression and, as a result, even think about suicide as a way of relieving their pain and suffering”, the psychologist explained.

Celma Ricardo, psychologist

Social Media VS Mental Health

The psychologist also warns that social media may influence people to develop suicidal thoughts, “because in that social environment there is little privacy and a lot of exposure.”

Nowadays, she said, people suffer cyber bullying because they are not accepted on social networks, and because they can’t resist criticism and offensive comments. Because of this, they even think about taking their own lives.

According to Ricardo, the community plays a crucial role in preventing this evil “by observing the behavior of its members and trying to find out what is behind their mental disorders.”

“Society, in general, should provide support to its members and not ridicule people who face emotional problems, because depression is a pathology and not coolness, as many people say”, he stressed.

The dilemma of those who have lost a family member to suicide

Dina Nhabinde lives in the 25 de Junho neighborhood, on the outskirts of Maputo city. Her 19-year-old nephew committed suicide in February this year, using a rope. His aunt says that he had been acting very strangely for a while before committing suicide, because he would get angry and cry over things that were considered nonsense.

“I remember that on my daughter’s birthday in December last year, for some unknown reason, he suddenly got angry and changed his behavior. His mother talked to him and consoled him. At the turn of the year, he got into an argument with his brother-in-law and started crying. He was already acting very strangely. Before he took his own life, the other day he wrote a letter without much information, with his full name and a sentence that said: See you another day”, she explained.

It was in February, the month of his 20th birthday, that he decided to take his own life.

“It was a day when everyone was at home, when his mother asked him to fetch cabbage from another aunt’s house. However, instead of responding to his mother’s request, he went straight to the kitchen and took a rope, tied it to the window grille and hanged himself. That’s how he lost his life”, she said.  Before hanging himself, the young man cut his wrists.

“We had no idea that he could commit such an act, he was very young and had a lot of life ahead of him, it was very sad”, she said.

According to Nhabinde, the young man was lazy even to eat, wash his clothes or do anything else. When his mother asked him what was wrong, he said he was ill, “but he said it wasn’t a physical illness, but one that was inside his heart.”

The “Yellow September” movement, which aims to raise awareness about suicide, was established by the WHO in 2003. The initiative came about through a young man who, before committing suicide, painted his car yellow. This act has come to symbolize the fight against suicide.

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