Reversing the suicide and mental health crisis in Africa


The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently launched a campaign to spread knowledge about suicide prevention efforts and encourage action in Africa, which has the highest incidence of suicide-related fatalities worldwide.

The suicide rate on the African continent is higher than the global average of nine per 100,000 individuals, at about 11 per 100,000 each year.

This is partly because not enough is being done to manage and prevent risk factors, such as mental health issues, which impact 116 million people today – up from 53 million in 1990 – and are on the rise.

The social media campaign, which was launched ahead of World Mental Health Day, aims to reach 10 million people in the area and raise public awareness in order to encourage governments and policymakers to give mental health programming, such as suicide prevention initiatives, more attention and funding.

These initiatives include providing health professionals with the tools they need to better support people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, educating those who may have these thoughts about where to turn for assistance, and sensitising the general public about how to recognise and assist those in need as well as to help combat the stigma associated with suicide, epilepsy, mental health conditions, and alcohol and drug abuse.

Six of the ten nations with the highest global suicide rates are located in Africa. In this area, hanging and self-poisoning with pesticides are the most popular methods, with drowning, using a gun, jumping from a height, and taking too much medication coming in second and third. According to studies, there are roughly 20 suicide attempts for every suicide that succeeds in Africa.

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“Suicide is a major public health problem, and every death by suicide is a tragedy. Unfortunately, suicide prevention is rarely a priority in national health programmes,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“Significant investment must be made to tackle Africa’s growing burden of chronic diseases and non-infectious conditions, such as mental disorders, that can contribute to suicide.”

As many as 11% of the risk factors for suicide include mental health issues. To highlight the significance of mental health care and the demand for improved access to health services, this year’s World Mental Health Day will be observed under the theme “Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority.”

Government underfunding is the biggest obstacle to providing appropriate mental health services in Africa.

Governments typically spend less than 50 cents per person on mental health. Even while it represents an improvement above the 10 US cents in 2017, it is still much below the low-income countries’ recommended $2 per capita.

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Furthermore, national health insurance programmes typically do not cover mental health services.

The African region has one psychiatrist for every 500 000 people, which is 100 times fewer than what the WHO recommends.

This is due to the poor investment in mental health services. Additionally, primary and community health facilities have very few, if any, mental health professionals. They are more prevalent in urban regions.

“Mental health is integral to wholesome health and well-being, yet far too many people in our region who need help for mental health conditions do not receive it. It’s time to for radical change,” Dr Moeti said.

“Ongoing efforts by countries should be reinforced and broadened to make mental healthcare a public health priority in the African region.”

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